Experience on the court turned out to be more important than depth on the bench.
Senior Shabazz Napier led Connecticut with 22 points, as the Huskies knocked off John Calipari's young Kentucky squad, 60-54, to capture the national title.
The galvanizing guard was named Most Outstanding Player and had some strong words after the win, via Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel:
Shabazz Napier to the crowd: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you banned us." Awesome.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) April 8, 2014
Bleacher Report gave its condolences to Derek the RA, who was rooting for laundry:
Ryan Boatright added 14 points, while Niels Giffey, who was a part of UConn's 2011 title with Napier, chipped in 10, as the Huskies' most experienced players helped their young coach make a little bit of history, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Kevin Ollie is the 1st coach to win the national title within his first 2 seasons as a D-I head coach since Steve Fisher (1989 Michigan).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 8, 2014
As Rush the Court's Twitter feed noted, this surely moves UConn, who was barred from last year's tournament, into the upper echelon of college basketball:
UConn's four ships in 16 yrs is the best such mark in the modern era. Not Duke, not UNC, not UK. Welcome to the blue-bloods, Huskies.— Rush the Court (@rushthecourt) April 8, 2014
James Young led Kentucky with 20 points, but the Wildcats shot just 54.2 percent from the free-throw line, and despite cutting into an early 15-point deficit, could never take a lead.
The Huskies exploded out of the gate. Defensively, they used their quickness to effectively swipe at the dribble, swarm the ball and force Kentucky into seven turnovers.
Giffey hit a pair of free throws to put UConn up by 15 with just under six minutes to go, leading LeBron James himself to praise the Huskies' electric backcourt:
Napier and Boatright controls both ends of the floor. Reminders of Bibby and Simon. That good!!— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 8, 2014
No way u take another PG in the lottery before Napier.— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 8, 2014
Napier and Boatright combined for 23 points and three steals in the first half, but when DeAndre Daniels went to the bench with foul trouble, Kentucky climbed back into the game.
After Napier combated Kentucky's zone with a three-pointer from T.J. Sorrentine range, Young and Andrew Harrison knocked down a couple of treys, and the Wildcats closed the half on an 11-2 run to make it 35-31 at intermission.
As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, it was just more of what we've seen all tournament from Calipari's Comeback Cats:
This is the 5th straight game in which Kentucky has trailed or been tied at the half. UK's last halftime lead was vs Kansas State.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 8, 2014
USA Today's Nicole Auerbach, meanwhile, noted the role Daniels' dismissal to the bench played in Kentucky's resurgence:
Another important factor: DeAndre Daniels picked up second foul/went to bench with UConn up 30-15.— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) April 8, 2014
Both squads came out of the locker room ice cold from the field—a testament to the defense more than anything else—but Giffey knocked down a corner three to give the Huskies some breathing room, 44-39, at the under-12 timeout.
Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde argued the importance of that moment:
Three by Giffey and Boatright steal feels big because points are so had to come by this half. Possession-by-possession defensive battle now.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) April 8, 2014
The Huskies pushed the lead back to nine and appeared ready to pull away, but Young responded with a Dunk of the Year nominee to provide Kentucky with a crucial spark:
Young hit four subsequent free throws as part of an 8-0 run to bring the 'Cats within one with just under eight minutes remaining.
But they could never get over the final hump, missing several freebies down the stretch, and the Huskies hit enough shots and used some late defensive stands to capture the national title.
Going forward, recruiting and improving young talent will be important for both coaches. Kentucky will likely have to reload with so many players capable of heading to the next level. That hasn't been such a problem in the past, but if Wildcats legend Rex Chapman's rumor comes to fruition, and Coach Cal joins his youngsters in the NBA, things may get a little dicey in Lexington:
Ollie, meanwhile, will have to replace Napier, Giffey and maybe Daniels, who is on the NBA's radar after a magnificent tournament.
But that's a problem that Ollie can deal with later. For now, thanks to one of the most memorable runs in tournament history, he gets to bask in Connecticut's fourth national championship as one of the best young coaches in the country.