By Kyle Lovern
April 8, 2014
AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Connecticut’s experienced backcourt made Kentucky’s guards look like, well, freshmen in the national championship game.
Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright outplayed the Harrison twins from start to finish Monday night.
“Whatever you’ve got to do, you’ve got to do it,” said Napier, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. “We’ve got a saying: ‘The only way we’re going to leave this floor with a loss is in a box.’”
Napier, a senior who was a role player on UConn’s last title team in 2011, had 22 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals in the Huskies’ 60-54 victory. Junior Ryan Boatright added 14 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Together, they were simply too much for the Wildcats (29-11) to handle.
“They were not going to let us take this game from them,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
Many thought it would be the other way around, with brothers Aaron and Andrew Harrison carrying the Wildcats to a second title in the last three years.
But the twins were mostly missing in the tournament finale at AT&T Stadium.
Aaron Harrison, who hit so many huge shots to get Kentucky to the title game, finished with seven points on 3-of-7 shooting. He also had three turnovers and no assists. Andrew Harrison was slightly better, scoring eight points to go along with five rebounds, five assists and four turnovers.
The play of the Harrisons contributed to Kentucky trailing most of the night, and Connecticut stepped up whenever the Wildcats made a charge.
“When you do have good guards that can control the game, it’s hard for you to come back because they can hold the ball and wait till run 35 seconds off the clock then make a tough shot,” Aaron Harrison said. “It’s pretty hard for you to come back like that.”
It wasn’t the first time Napier and Boatright outplayed the opposing backcourt. Not this year. Not in this NCAA tournament. Not even in the Final Four.
UConn’s dynamic duo shut down Florida guards Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier in the semifinals. Wilbekin, the Southeastern Conference player of the year, had four points on 2-of-9 shooting Saturday night. Wilbekin also finished with just one assist and three turnovers.
Frazier hit a 3-pointer off the opening tip, and then was shut out the rest of the way in UConn’s 63-53 victory.
Napier and Boatright were equally disruptive against Kentucky’s bigger backcourt.
They limited open looks from behind the 3-point line, prevented drives, picked off passes and challenged every shot. They have the speed, athleticism and instincts to do it all the time.
And their experience may have been the key to putting it all together.
Calipari showed them ultimate respect in the final minute by not fouling, saying “those guards never miss.”
“They weren’t going to miss a free throw,” Calipari said. “We had three possessions left. We were OK, but we were going to have to score on every possession. Those were the dice I rolled.”
The Huskies went 10 for 10 from the free-throw line.
Fittingly enough, they ended the night crowded around the stripe as player after player climbed up a ladder and cut down a strand of the nets.
Just before that familiar postseason scene, Napier took the microphone on the stage and slammed the NCAA while making it to clear to everyone within earshot that last year’s exclusion from the tournament put a huge chip on their shoulders.
“You’re looking at the hungry Huskies,” he said. “That’s what happens.”
The Huskies (32-8) were ineligible because of the team’s Academic Progress Report. Napier, Boatright and others could have left the program and played elsewhere, but they stayed and used the NCAA tournament ban as a rallying point all year. It really started to drive them in the tournament.
And they weren’t going to let Kentucky’s freshmen stop them from taking home the title.
“I came too far to lose right now,” said Boatright, who played through a sprained ankle in the second half. “I worked too hard in all my life to be in this position, and I wasn’t going to let an ankle sprain stop me.”