UConn never stopped believing


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Believe. That's the word everyone used. The players, the coach, his wife, the mothers. Everyone associated with Connecticut kept coming back to "believe."

It's a powerful tool, the power of conviction, the kind that can change the world and, yes, rebuild a basketball program.

Two years ago, Kevin Ollie told his Connecticut players that they were going to get through APR sanctions, a coaching change and player defections and come out on the other side a stronger, better team.

And they believed him.

Three months ago, after the Huskies lost to Louisville at home, Shabazz Napier gathered his teammates in the locker room and told them a crazy tale. He told them they were going to end the season holding the national championship trophy.

And they believed him.

Two months ago, Ryan Boatright went home to bury his cousin, a young man who was more like a brother than a cousin. Boatright's mother sent her son back to college and told him not to worry, that Arin Williams would be with him.

And he believed her.

Now, finally, maybe everyone will believe in UConn. Counted out of virtually every game since this NCAA tournament began, the Huskies are now the national champions, 60-54 winners over Kentucky.

A year ago, the Huskies weren't allowed to play in the tournament.

And now they own it.

"You can't let anything hold you down," Napier said minutes after the game ended. "You have to find the positive and push through. No matter if you're from a good neighborhood or a bad one, you're going to have obstacles. It's about how you handle them."

The obstacles have come one after another for the Huskies. Individually and collectively, they have absorbed body blow after body blow.

That they are underdog national champions is only fitting considering what they've gone through for years.

"They believed in a vision before anybody could see it," Ollie said. "They stuck with it through down times, when we were losing. When we were winning, they stayed together and they believed it was possible."

They believed even in this title game when it looked a little dire. UConn kept building a lead, and the heart-attack comeback Cats kept coming back. Kentucky had just cut another deficit, this one of nine points, to three when Boatright awkwardly tweaked his ankle.


They believed in a vision before anybody could see it.

" -- UConn coach Kevin Ollie

He quickly called a timeout and his athletic trainer worked on it in the huddle, but he was obviously in pain.

"It's killing me," he said. "But there was no way I was coming out."

Naturally, then, it was Boatright who hit the pull-up jumper with 4:13 left that wound up being the difference-maker for the Huskies.

Because that's what he does and that's what the Huskies do: the unexpected.

No one expected them to beat a bigger, tougher and more talented Kentucky basketball team. No one expected them to beat Michigan State or Florida, either.

But the Huskies did to the Wildcats exactly what they've done to everyone else -- demoralized them with killer defense and dagger shots. Kentucky coughed up 13 turnovers, six caused by Napier and Boatright, and shot just 39.1 percent.

The UConn guards, meanwhile, combined for 36 points and 10 rebounds.

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