The Final Four was surrounded by a number of stories waiting to come to fruition. Could Bo Ryan lead the Wisconsin Badgers to their first National Championship since 1941? Could Billy Donovan win his 3rd championship at Florida and place himself in history with the likes of John Wooden (10 championships), Adolph Rupp (four championships), Mike Krzyzewski (four championships), Bob Knight (three championships), and Jim Calhoun (three championships)? Could Kentucky University once again win a national championship with a roster of primarily freshmen? Could Shabazz Napier do his best Kemba Walker impersonation and lead the University of Connecticut to its second title in four years?
Unfortunately for Wisconsin, Florida, and Kentucky, they came up short of their goal of a national championship. However, Shabazz Napier did indeed do his best Kemba Walker imitation throughout the tournament and capped it off with a 22 point, six rebound, three assist, and three steal performance while leading UConn to a 60-54 victory over Kentucky for the na tional championship.
During much of the first half of the national championship game, UConn looked like they were going to run away with an easy win. Kentucky’s guards were frazzled by the lockdown defense of Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier and it looked like future NBA lottery pick Julius Randle may have sustained an injury during their previous contest against Wisconsin.
With six minutes left to play in the first half, UConn led 30-15 and Coach Calipari switched to a 2-3 zone defense as a last resort. UConn struggled to find gaps and make shots against the zone. Kentucky was eventually able to cut the UConn lead to 35-31 by halftime. Interestingly, Coach Calipari reverted back to Kentucky’s original man-to-man defense in the second half, which baffled many because the zone had been so effective.
Kentucky was able to use their length to cover a lot of area, which bothered the smaller UConn team. However, this could not ultimately stop the Wildcats’ downfall. Although it is a coach’s cliché, free throws cost Kentucky their chance of winning another national championship. The Wildcats shot just 54% (13 of 24) from the free throw line, while the Huskies were a perfect 10 for 10.
Nevertheless, this did not stop the Wildcats from making the game interesting. With 12 minutes to play in the second half, UConn lead 41-39 and it felt like the game would go down to the wire (like many in this tournament had done before it), but UConn quickly responded with a 7-0 run to push their lead to 48-39. James Young then made the play of the game with a tomahawk dunk while getting fouled (seriously, YouTube it).
At that point, the momentum of the game seemed to turn in favor of Kentucky. The Wildcats once again made a push and cut the UConn lead to just one, 48-47, with seven minutes to go. However, the Huskies made a 12-6 run to end the game and win their school’s fourth National Championship with a score of 60-54.