NCAA Tournament 2014: Stars Who Need to Shine During UConn vs. Kentucky

R. Cory Smith@@RCorySmithSenior Writer IApril 7, 2014

The stage is set and two historic programs will look to claim the top prize in college basketball on Monday night.

What the matchup will ultimately come down to is a battle of wills between Kentucky's young, maturing stars and UConn's experienced veterans to decide who will take home the national championship.

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Their names have been talked about all season, but the final game of the year will be decided by names like Julius Randle and Shabazz Napier, both of whom are heralded as future NBA players.

Then there's Aaron Harrison, who was questioned all season before adding his name to Kentucky's list of the best players ever in the tournament.

With the game set to tip off on CBS at 9:30 p.m. ET, here's a look at those three stars and why they need to have breakout games to hoist the national championship trophy.


Aaron Harrison, Kentucky

Is there a clutcher player in the country than Aaron Harrison?

The freshman has proven to truly have ice in his veins, as he's knocked down three straight game-winning shots to get the Wildcats into this game. Dan Dakich of ESPN shared his thoughts on the performance of the frosh over the course of the tournament with the Mike & Mike Show:

While he hasn't set the world on fire with his scoring throughout any of those games—he only had one three-point attempt against Wisconsin—his confidence down the stretch has changed Kentucky's fate at the end of the year.

As for the actual shots he's taken throughout the tournament, SportsCenter proves that none of the three were easy:

Even if Kentucky's hero doesn't shine during the first half or even for much of the second half, expect to see the freshman with the ball in his hands on the Wildcats' final possession.


Shabazz Napier, UConn

As difficult as the field has been for the Huskies, Napier has yet to meet a challenge he hasn't been able to meet.

The senior has shined all season for UConn, winning the Bob Cousy Award for the best point guard in the country, and has been a catalyst for the team throughout the NCAA tournament.

He's not the first to accomplish that feat for UConn, though. Throughout the tournament run, Napier has drawn comparisons to Kemba Walker, who took the Huskies all the way to the top of the college basketball world in 2011.

But with one game left to claim a national championship, Napier told John Marshall of the Associated Press that he wants to emerge from Walker's shadow by carrying his Huskies to a fourth title:

I just want to go out there, like I always say, and be myself. At the end of the day, he (Walker) took that team to a national championship and I want to do the same. But, I'm going to do it a different pathway and I'm going to be myself.

All Napier has done throughout the tournament is put up three 20-point performances and score in double digits in every win.

Outside of his scoring, he and Ryan Boatright have been great defensive players and limited the other team's best shooter.

With Napier lighting it up and DeAndre Daniels getting the job done down low, the Huskies could pull off one of the most improbable runs and become the first ever No. 7 seed to win the national championship.


Julius Randle, Kentucky

Coming into the season, Randle was thrown in with names like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker as the best freshmen in the country.

Now only one of those heralded freshmen remain, and Randle has a chance to join some of Kentucky's best one-and-done players ever if he can help win a title.

As for the rest of his teammates, Randle told reporters that he knew his team was one of the best in the tournament:

What Randle brings to the national championship game is a scoring threat in the paint that can compete with Final Four breakout player Daniels. If he's able to put up the same numbers as he did through the first four rounds of the tournament, Kentucky has a chance to become just the second No. 8 seed to hoist the trophy.

Another double-double might not improve Randle's draft stock— indicates that he's basically a lock in the top five at this point—but it would make him one of the most memorable players for Big Blue Nation after just one season.


Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter.


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