Although few could have anticipated a national championship game between No. 7 Connecticut and No. 8 Kentucky, this matchup should be as competitive as any in recent history.
The Wildcats entered the year as the preseason No. 1 thanks to one of the best recruiting classes ever assembled, headlined by forward Julius Randle. While it took some time to get up to speed, the talented teenagers are living up to the hype.
After taking care of No. 9 seed Kansas State, they've knocked off a No. 1 (Wichita State), a No. 4 and last year's champions (Louisville), a No. 2 and last year's runner-up (Michigan) and a tough No. 2 (Wisconsin).
Meanwhile, the Huskies have been just as impressive lately with wins over a challenging No. 10 seed (Saint Joseph's), a No. 2 (Villanova), a No. 3 (Iowa State), an experienced No. 4 (Michigan State) and a No. 1 many picked to win it all (Florida).
They entered the tournament relying on Shabazz Napier to make plays, but now everyone on the roster has confidence to contribute and help the team win.
Follow along for everything you need to know about UConn vs. Kentucky.
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|When||Monday, April 7|
|Time||9:10 p.m. ET|
|Where||AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas|
|CBS Pregame Show||8:30 p.m. ET|
Top Players to Watch
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
You would think the Huskies would need a superior effort from their best player to defeat the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. However, Napier did not have his best game, totaling 12 points, three rebounds, six assists and four steals on 3-of-6 shooting.
The rest of the squad picked up the offensive slack, as guard Ryan Boatright explained after the game, via Matt Norlander of CBS Sports:
It's not a one-man team, it's not a two-man team, and they were double-teaming Shabazz a lot. Everybody stepped up. This group of guys has been together for three years. We believe in each other and we believe in our coaching staff.
Of course, Napier is the reason the team has gotten this far after averaging 23.3 points in the first four games of the tournament. He led the team in points, assists, rebounds and steals during the regular season and will be priority No. 1 for Kentucky.
Even without a dominant showing in the Final Four, fans should be ready for a big-time performance in the final.
DeAndre Daniels, Connecticut
No team can make a run in the NCAA tournament with just one guy producing at a high level. Connecticut needed Napier, but the solid play of DeAndre Daniels is a major reason why the team is one game away from a title.
The forward had a breakout performance against Iowa State in the Sweet 16, totaling 27 points and 10 rebounds in a winning effort.
For anyone who thought that might be a fluke, he came right back with a huge game against Florida (20 points and 10 rebounds on 9-of-14 shooting).
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports was certainly impressed:
DeAndre Daniels has officially arrived as a big time player. Has scored in double figures in all 5 of UConn's NCAA games. 20 + 10 tonight.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) April 6, 2014
Throwing down dunks like this also turned some heads:
In a matchup featuring one of the top players in the country on his own team and the No. 1 seed in the tournament, Daniels was the best player on the floor Saturday night.
Julius Randle, Kentucky
On a team full of superstars, Julius Randle stood above the rest all season long as a dominant force in the low post thanks to a nonstop motor.
He leads the team in scoring with 15.1 points per game and finished the regular season ranked eighth in the country with an average of 10.5 rebounds per game.
After an impressive turnaround jumper against Wisconsin, Matt Norlander of CBS Sports had this to say:
It’s been a joy to watch Julius Randle play college basketball. Lived up to the hype.— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) April 6, 2014
Randle finished with 16 points in the win, including a few momentum-shifting and-1 plays. He always seems to find a way to be productive no matter how well he is playing over the course of a game.
Connecticut has a shot-blocking presence in 7'0" freshman Amida Brimah, but he doesn't have the strength to handle Randle over the course of a game. This mismatch could lead to a lot of offensive success for Kentucky.
Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
While James Young has proven to be one of the better overall players on Kentucky's roster, no one on the team has been as clutch as Aaron Harrison.
The freshman is right around his season average with 14.4 points per game in the NCAA tournament. However, it is what he has done at the end of games that has been truly impressive.
ESPN Stats & Info provides a look:
Aaron Harrison is 3-for-3 on game-tying/go-ahead 3-pt FG in final 1:00 of 2nd half in NCAA Tournament. He had 0 such attempts in reg season.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 6, 2014
He helped send Kentucky to the final with a three-pointer with just 5.7 seconds remaining:
This turned out to be the game-winning shot, as Wisconsin was unable to answer. There was plenty of discussion after the contest about Harrison's ability to come through in big moments, but Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky had the most memorable response:
#Badgers center Frank Kaminsky: "That's a shot that's going to stick in our minds for the rest of our lives."— Brian Hamilton (@BrianHamiltonSI) April 6, 2014
Connecticut can't ever lose sight of Aaron Harrison, especially in the waning moments.
Prediction: Kentucky 69, Connecticut 65
This game will remain close from start to finish. Connecticut has displayed great defense throughout the tournament, especially with its guard play, limiting some of the most talented players to poor performances.
However, Kentucky might have too much ability to keep down. As good as Randle has been all year, the Wildcats have gotten a lot of production lately out of Young, Dakari Johnson and even Marcus Lee off the bench. Meanwhile, both Harrison twins are peaking at the right time.
Napier has the opportunity to carry any team, and he will get plenty of help from Boatright, Daniels and Niels Giffey, among others, but the squad will come up just short against the hyper-athletic Wildcats.
Kentucky has won its last four games by five points or fewer, and the national championship will continue this streak.
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