Kentucky and Connecticut represent an intriguing matchup for the national championship game thanks to an endless array of talented players. However, there are a few specific battles that will stand above the rest.
While basketball is a team sport, we have seen some squads struggle because of the ineffectiveness of a few key players.
Wisconsin came up short against Kentucky when Frank Kaminsky scored just eight points after averaging 22 in the three games prior. Florida also struggled offensively thanks to only four points from team leader Scottie Wilbekin.
Both teams in the finals will try to take out each other's key players, making a few individual matchups something to focus on throughout the game. Here is a look at the most important battles to watch for in the finals.
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Ryan Boatright vs. Aaron Harrison
Although Ryan Boatright has not gotten a lot of respect this season, the guard has been a consistent contributor throughout the NCAA tournament. He has scored in double figures in all five games, making plenty of clutch shots late.
The problem is he is likely to struggle defensively against a tall backcourt for Kentucky. The 6'0" Boatright will struggle to prevent the 6'6" Harrison from getting good looks at the end, something that is a scary thought for UConn.
Harrison had an up-and-down regular season, but he has turned it on in the past few weeks. In five NCAA tournament games, he has hit 14 of 25 shots from behind the arc, good enough for 56 percent. He has also been incredible in the final minutes of games:
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
This clutch ability was shown in the Final Four against Wisconsin:
If Boatright cannot keep up with Harrison, Connecticut could be in trouble.
DeAndre Daniels vs. Julius Randle
Throughout this tournament, DeAndre Daniels has been a matchup nightmare with his ability to score inside and out. He scored 20 points with 10 rebounds against Florida and appeared at times to be the best player on the floor.
He explained after the game that he was ready for a breakout performance:
“I talked to (former) Head Coach Jim Calhoun, and he was like, man nobody is talking about you.” - DeAndre Daniels pic.twitter.com/IWdNswZaF6— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) April 6, 2014
This could force Kentucky to use multiple defenders on the versatile player. James Young or Alex Poythress could be needed to handle the forward on the outside, or Randle could be used to prevent scoring in the paint.
Either way, Daniels should be able to find a way to score.
On the other hand, he will seriously struggle defensively if he is forced to guard Randle. While both players are listed at 6'9", the Kentucky forward has a 55-pound advantage and is certain to use it to gain position down low.
Most importantly, Daniels will have to find a way to secure defensive rebounds, something that will not be easy. The Wildcats ranked fifth in the nation in offensive rebounding this year, and this has been a big reason for the team's success in the tournament.
If Randle can earn second-chance points with ease, Kentucky will be able to control the game.
Shabazz Napier vs. Andrew Harrison
Despite giving up five inches, Shabazz Napier has the obvious advantage in this matchup. The senior guard has been one of the best players in the country all year and has turned it on in the NCAA tournament.
Napier is averaging 21 points in five games, and he has made huge plays on both ends of the court. Most importantly, he has a will to win, which was seen by Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports after the last game:
Shabazz Napier didn't even change expression when the clock hit zero. He wants one more win.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) April 6, 2014
He has handled tall opponents before, most recently seen against Iowa State, holding DeAndre Kane to just 6-of-18 from the field. Napier had 19 in that Sweet 16 win.
The senior should be able to outduel a freshman who has been inconsistent throughout the year.
Andrew Harrison does have 25 assists in five NCAA tournament games, but he also has 20 turnovers in that stretch. He has also shot just 11-of-37 in the past three contests.
It is obvious his decision-making has not been great, and it is hurting the team. Harrison needs to play within himself on both offense and defense against Connecticut, or else Napier should be able to run wild in a winning effort.
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