April 10, 2014
Shabazz Napier turned in another masterful performance Monday night to lift the Connecticut Huskies to a 60-54 victory over Kentucky in the 2014 National Championship Basketball Game. The senior guard recorded 22 points, six rebounds, and three assists while proving, this time at least, that senior leadership wins out versus talented freshmen. Kentucky and its five starting freshmen were favored over the seventh seed Huskies. Making UConn’s title even more unexpected was the fact that the title came only a short year after the Huskies were barred from March Madness because of grades problems. Apparently, the one-year ban provided additional motivation. Connecticut (32-8) never trailed in the final.
The Huskies led by as many as 15 in the first half and watched the Wildcats trim the deficit to one with just over eight minutes left. But Kentucky never got that close again.
A key factor in the six point loss was that the Wildcats missed 11 free throws. Kentucky went 13 of 24 from the line while UConn went a perfect 10 for 10. Kentucky, who entered the game coming off impressive, and close, victories over Wisconsin, Michigan, Louisville, and Wichita State, got outclassed by a more fundamentally sound, more seasoned team.
UConn came into this tournament a seventh-seeded afterthought but walked away with the program’s fourth national title since 1999. No other school has more titles over that span of time. The Huskies were the highest seed to win it all since Rollie Massimino’s eighth-seeded Villanova squad in 1985. The title adds to the school’s championships in 1999, 2004 and 2011. This 2014 title may be the most impressive of all.
A short year ago, the Huskies were preparing for their first season in the new American Athletic Conference after being booted from the Big East and not welcomed by any of the so-called power conferences. Long-time coach Jim Calhoun, who built the program, left because of health problems. And most damaging, the NCAA ban triggered an exodus of five key players to the NBA or other schools.
UConn’s Kevin Ollie
Thankfully for UConn fans Napier stuck around. And Calhoun’s replacement, Kevin Ollie, rebuilt the program quickly.
Ollie and Connecticut were one step ahead of Kentucky all night, holding off furious rally after furious rally. After the Wildcats got to within one point in the second half, Napier and Neils Giffey made 3s on UConn’s two possessions and that one-point lead was back up to five. The Huskies maintained control from that point on.
The big question in Kentucky is what will happen to all those freshmen. Julius Randle (10 points, six rebounds) is a lottery pick if he leaves for the NBA. Three of his running-mates also could be first round selections. The big question is whether they’ll want to leave on this note. I think Randle will make the jump. We will find out soon enough about him and his mates. Napier was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player and he earned it. Shabazz put this team on his back and carried them to the title.
Not to be outdone, the UConn women matched the UConn men and won the Women’s Final Four Tuesday night. The Huskies blew Notre Dame out to win the program’s ninth national title. Connecticut finished the season with a perfect 40-0 record.
UConn’s Women won their Final Four, too
File this in your did-you-know file. Did you know that the last time a school won both basketball national titles took place back in 2004. The school that did it. UConn, of course.
Did You Know...
Did you know that revenues derived from multiple university athletic departments is greater then revenues from a high majority of NBA and NHL teams?
It is true. Here are some numbers. The University of Texas earned more then $165 million last year in revenue. Just over $100 million of it came from football.
The NCAA’s got a lot more dough than this...
The Longhorns, and Alabama at $143 million, exceeded those of all 30 NHL teams and 25 of the 30 NBA teams.
These numbers are about to be thrown around in upcoming court battles.
There is a movement for collegiate athletes to receive some compensation. It has already started as the Northwestern football players won a battle and are being allowed to unionize. The NCAA may take steps to get ahead of the curve and take steps to pay their athletes.
Of course, there’s no shortage of arguments, good ones, that an athletics scholarship to a place like Alabama represents a fair deal for the athletes and is compensation enough.
The other side of the argument is that the Crimson Tide would not be rolling in over a $100 million a year if it were not for the athletes. Interesting times.