Call me an old fogey, but I’m delighted that Kentucky’s five much-hyped, “one-and-done” freshmen were defeated 60-54 in the NCAA Tournament Championship game by the University of Connecticut Huskies. And I’m especially thrilled that UConn led from start to finish.
This wasn’t a battle of David vs. Goliath – and there was no Cinderella team. Both teams had recent championship experience. UConn won an NCAA crown in 2011 and Kentucky won in 2012. Coach John Calipari’s Kentucky 2012 title-winning squad started 3 freshman and 2 sophomores.
But it was still an unlikely matchup. Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats were an 8-seed and Kevin Ollie’s UConn Huskies were a 7-seed. It was the first time a #7 team and a #8 team faced off for the championship: the lowest combined seed in NCAA history.
Connecticut was the first 7-seed to reach the title game – but that’s not what made it such a compelling game for me – and for millions of college sports fans across the nation.
8-seeds like Kentucky have made it to the NCAA title game before: the last to do so was Butler in 2011. But, ironically, Butler lost to UConn. Before that, the Huskies beat Kentucky in the Final Four. That this year’s Connecticut team returned two veterans — now seniors — from that 2011 championship team proved the difference in the 2014 NCCA Final.
UConn head coach Kevin Ollie faced John Calipari’s “one-and-done” starting freshmen five with a balanced and experienced squad of true student-athletes: Phillip Nolan (Sophomore), DeAndre Daniels (Junior), Shabazz Napier (Senior), Niels Giffey (Senior) and Ryan Boatright (Junior).
In fact, last year Napier chose to return to UConn for his senior year because he wanted to get his degree and return to the NCAA Tournament with his teammates.
All that the unfazed, well-prepared senior Napier did in tonight’s pressure-filled game was score a game high 22 points with 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. (NBA general managers, are you paying attention?) To get to the title game, the cold-blooded, been-there, done-that Napier helped his team beat #1 Florida by scoring 26 points, including a last-second jump shot that clinched the game by a single point.
There’s a reason that no college team has ever won a national title while starting five freshmen. Michigan’s legendary Fab Five couldn’t do it in 1992 – and neither could Calipari’s Kentucky mercenaries this year.
I’m going to go to Fatburger (not McDonald’s) tomorrow.
And I’ll savor the satisfying flavor of experience over immaturity, impertinence and insouciance.