Shabazz Napier, UConn too much for Kentucky, seize national title

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Coaches and players left them. Others told them to go away.

The guys who stuck around at UConn ended up with the last laugh and a pretty good prize to go with it: the national title.

Shabazz Napier turned in another all-court masterpiece Monday night to lift the Huskies to a 60-54 win over Kentucky's freshmen and bring home a championship hardly anyone saw coming.

"You're looking at the hungry Huskies," Napier told the crowd and TV audience as confetti rained down. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you banned us."

The senior guard had 22 points, six rebounds and three assists, and his partner in defensive lockdown, Ryan Boatright, finished with 14 points.

The victory comes only a short year after the Huskies were barred from March Madness because of grades problems. That stoked a fire no one could put out in 2014.

Napier kneeled down and put his forehead to the court for a long while after the buzzer sounded. He was wiping back tears when he cut down the net.

"I see my guys enjoying it," Napier said. "That's the most special feeling ever."

UConn (32-8) never trailed in the final. The Huskies led by as many as 15 in the first half and watched the Wildcats (29-11) trim the deficit to one with 8:13 left. But Aaron Harrison, who pulled out wins with clutch 3-pointers in Kentucky's previous three games, missed a 3 from the left corner that would have given the Cats the lead. Kentucky never got that close again.

One key difference in a six-point loss: Kentucky's 11 missed free throws -- a flashback of sorts for coach John Calipari, whose Memphis team blew a late lead against Kansas after missing multiple free throws in the 2008 final. The Wildcats went 13-for-24. UConn went 10-for-10, including Lasan Kromah's two to seal the game with 25.1 seconds left.

"We had our chances to win," Calipari said. "We're missing shots, we're missing free throws. We just didn't have enough."

Calipari said he decided not to foul at the end "because they're not missing."

In all, Calipari's one-and-doners got outdone by a more fundamentally sound, more seasoned group that came into this tournament a seventh-seeded afterthought but walked away with the program's fourth national title since 1999. The Huskies were the lowest seed to win it all since Rollie Massimino's eighth-seeded Villanova squad in 1985.

"Somebody told me we were Cinderellas, and I was like, no, we're UConn," coach Kevin Ollie said. "This is what we do. We are born for this. We're bred to cut down nets. We're not chasing championships. Championships are chasing us."

Napier and Boatright now go down with Kemba Walker, Emeka Okafor, Rip Hamilton, Ray Allen and all those other UConn greats. This adds to the school's titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011.

"When they say Ray, Rip, Ben, Emeka, Kemba -- they'll soon say Shabazz," said former Huskies coach Jim Calhoun, who was in the crowd along with former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and a father-and-son team whose dance to the "Happy" song got huge applause when played on the big screen at AT&T Stadium.

The crowd was cheering for UConn at the end.

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