NCAA Championship Game 2014: Star Players Who Will Decide UConn vs. Kentucky

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistApril 6, 2014

Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels reacts during the first half of an NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game against Florida Saturday, April 5, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay

It is only right that the 2014 NCAA championship game has come to this in an extreme showcase of parity, as No. 7 UConn will clash with No. 8 Kentucky on Monday night for college basketball's top prize.

This year's Big Dance was more unpredictable than ever, meaning it will have a fitting end as one of two unheralded squads will walk away with the title.

That sounds silly, but this is still the same Kentucky squad led by John Calipari that limped through SEC play. It's still the same UConn squad quietly led by Kevin Ollie that finished a meager tied for third in the ACC.

Now the two have hit full stride and collide on a massive stage, where the minute difference in the final score will come via individual performances.


DeAndre Daniels, UConn

Tony Gutierrez

Case in point—the Huskies moved past No. 1 Florida in the Final Four thanks to junior DeAndre Daniels' spectacular night. He entered with a chip on his shoulder, as illustrated by SportsCenter:

If that was some coy move by Jim Calhoun to get Daniels motivated, it certainly worked:

Daniels finished with a 9-of-14 mark from the field for a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds. Those aren't really shocking numbers, until one remembers it came against Florida, a dominant team down low led by the likes of Patric Young.

Saturday marked Daniels' second outburst of at least 20 points and 10 boards in the Big Dance, and he'll have to do so again to hoist the title. Perhaps even more importantly, Daniels will have to once again be a force in the paint to help contain the next player on the list.


Julius Randle, Kentucky

Eric Gay

Look how quickly the nation has forgotten Julius Randle.

It's rather easy to do so, thanks to the late-game heroics of Aaron Harrison:

That's now three game-winning shots by Harrison on the tournament, and even Calipari seems quick to point out his heroics more than anything else, per Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal:

Maybe Randle is overlooked at this point because he quietly goes about his business and makes the lives of those around him easier. He's dangerous with the ball in his hands as a passer, touts a bevy of post moves and overall is ready for the next level.

He sounds hungry despite recent triumphs, as captured by CBS Sports' Matt Norlander:

I'm definitely not satisfied. We have one more game to go. We have been through a lot this year and we deserve to reward ourselves and go out there and play hard and give it all we got. So definitely not satisfied. Playing in my hometown, that really doesn't mean anything. I mean, the atmosphere was crazy. Coach told us to go out there and just soak it in at first, and then just worry about what's going on on the court. So it was crazy and it was fun.

Randle averages a double-double at 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game and posted 16 points and five boards in just 27 minutes on Saturday thanks to a minor ankle injury. Given the fact UConn surprisingly dominated Florida down low, Randle will have to (potentially) end his collegiate career on an epic note to see the Wildcats to a title victory.


Shabazz Napier, UConn

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 05: Shabazz Napier #13 of the Connecticut Huskies brings the ball up the floor against the Florida Gators during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at AT&T Stadium on April 5, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Get
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It had to be a tough decision to forgo the pros and return for another shot at a title, but Shabazz Napier has the Huskies back in contention after carrying the team through the Big Dance.

Even after the win over Florida, Napier had the look of a man on a mission, as illustrated by CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello:

Interestingly enough, Napier had a rather quiet game on Saturday with just 12 points, a small number when compared to his outbursts of 24, 25, 19 and 25 points in the tournament games prior. But he did dish six assists and was critical in a much more important area, captured by ESPN Stats & Info:

Effectively shutting down the SEC Player of the Year is no small feat, but Napier will have his hands full once more with Harrison on Monday. It's only fitting that the bracket's best player, who has carried the Huskies to the final game, explodes once more in the decisive game of his collegiate career.


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