The improbable became certainty as Connecticut became the first 7 seed to win the NCAA men’s basketball title.
The Huskies completed an historic run with a 60-54 victory over No. 8 Kentucky, marking the first time in 25 years that the champion was not a 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed.
Shabazz Napier turned in another all-court masterpiece with 22 points, six rebounds and three assists. His partner in defensive lock-down, Ryan Boatright, finished with 14 points.
Just a year ago the Huskies were barred from March Madness because of grades problems. That stoked a fire no one could put out in 2014.
UConn (32-8) never trailed, leading by as many as 15 in the first half. The Wildcats (29-11) trimmed the deficit to one with 8:13 left, but Aaron Harrison, Kentucky’s big-moment shooter in the last three games, missed a 3-pointer from the left corner that would’ve given the ‘Cats the lead. Kentucky never got closer.
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.
It was UConn’s fourth national title since 1999 and the highest seed to win it all since Rollie Massimino’s eighth-seeded Villanova squad in 1985.
Kentucky was the preseason No. 1 and a huge disappointment through much of this season, then came on just in time for a run to the final.
Napier was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player and he earned it on both ends of the court, keeping a hand in Aaron Harrison’s face most of the night and holding him to a 3-for-7, seven-point, no-damage night.
The UConn women play for the national title Tuesday. If they win, it will be the first sweep of the titles since 2004. The last school to do it: UConn.
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