National Championship Game 2014: Best and Worst Moments from Each Team in Finale

Steven CookFeatured Columnist IVApril 8, 2014

Connecticut guard Ryan Boatright, left, shoots over Kentucky forward Julius Randle (30) during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay

Connecticut topped Kentucky 60-54 on Monday night to win the NCAA tournament and the national championship. But it's not always as simple as one team winning and the other losing.

Each team had big-time performances that kept them in the game, but also had other parts get away from them. That allowed for things to be close down the stretch. It also featured momentum swing after momentum swing, which is another tell-tale factor of a tight game—even if the Wildcats didn't make it a last-minute thriller by hitting their shots late. 

All of the talk will surround heroics from UConn players and the shortcomings from John Calipari's crew, but the situation calls for plenty of credit and blame to go both ways. 

Since the glass always has to be half-full when it's empty and half-empty when it's full, let's break down the good and bad from each team in Monday's final.


Connecticut Huskies

Best: Shabazz Gonna Shabazz

This year's NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player award belongs to UConn point guard, and now legend, Shabazz Napier. 

And when was the last time a player as deserving won such an award? Napier has unquestionably been the best player in the nation since the Big Dance began, willing his team to victories by damaging the opponent with everything from points to rebounds to steals to assists and more. 

Out of the gates on Monday night, Napier was better than ever as he put up 15 points in the first half alone. Napier did make some mistakes—four turnovers and some defensive lapses—but for how much he has carried this team throughout the tournament, the least they could do was give him some help in the final frame.

In the end, that had Napier leaving the AT&T Stadium court a national champion and firing shots as Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel noted:

Napier even got the last laugh over the NCAA on his way to his second national championship and the program's fourth.


Best: Charity Stripe Success

David J. Phillip

UConn entered Monday's championship game fifth in the nation in free-throw percentage, so it figured to be a potential X-factor. 

And while the Huskies didn't get to the line at will by any means, they canned every single one of their 10 free-throw attempts—going a perfect 10-for-10 at the charity stripe.

As Calipari told Louisville Courier-Journal's Jonathan Lintner after the game, his team couldn't foul UConn late despite a deficit because it simply would've dug them in a deeper hole:

UConn's free-throw shooting only gave them 10 points, but it impacted the way the game was called by the opposing coach in crunch time, and that went in the Huskies' favor. The significance of that can't be understated. 


Worst: Not DeAndre Daniels' Best Day

David J. Phillip

Playing against Kentucky on Monday night proved to be a matchup nightmare for UConn forward DeAndre Daniels, but the same could have been said about Florida or even Michigan State. 

But while he combined for 32 points and 18 rebounds against those two juggernauts, a similar impact wasn't felt against the Wildcat bigs.

Daniels finished with eight points and six rebounds, but shot a pedestrian 4-for-14 from the field. He missed all four of his three-point attempts—a few of which were blatantly wide open. Foul trouble also marred him late in the first half.

A national championship ring makes you forget about even the worst of games, and Daniels' impact throughout this title run has been unmistakable. But it's no secret that he got worked in the post Monday.


Kentucky Wildcats

Best: James Young's Emergence

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 07:  James Young #1 of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts against the Connecticut Huskies during the NCAA Men's Final Four Championship at AT&T Stadium on April 7, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It's hard to call a player overlooked when he's a highly-touted freshman starting in a featured role for a program like Kentucky. But James Young hasn't gotten his due credit during the NCAA tourney run largely because his numbers haven't been as dominant as they were during the season.

But no Wildcat walked off the AT&T Stadium floor Monday night having played a better final game than Young.

With Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison—15 combined points—struggling to get looks, Young took on the role of scorer. He finished with a team-high 20 points on 5-for-13 shooting, but also grabbed a team-high seven boards.

Oh, and Young was 8-for-9 from the charity stripe while the rest of Kentucky went 5-for-15. That just about sums it up. 


Best: Freshmen Prove Beyond Their Years, Again

Chris Steppig

Once again, Kentucky was knocked down early. But just like the Wildcats did throughout their NCAA tournament run and just like they did during the regular season, they showed the resolve to bounce back.

UConn came out and hit the freshmen Wildcats with a hay-maker in the opening minutes, taking a 17-8 lead that eventually became a 30-15 UK deficit.

With a little less than six minutes in the first half, it was looking like a blowout. But Kentucky battled back, making it a four-point deficit at the halftime break and cutting it to one many times in the second half.

The Wildcats battled back in it just like they did against Michigan, Louisville and even Wichita State. But unlike those games, the shots and free throws didn't fall late. 


Worst: Free-Throw Woes

Eric Gay

Kentucky stepped to the free-throw line 24 times, UConn 10 times. 

Advantage Wildcats, right? 

Not quite. UK only made 54.1 percent of its free throws, going 13-for-24 as a unit from the line. The Wildcats were bigger and stronger than UConn and took advantage, but the Huskies lucked out when Calipari's team couldn't convert the freebies. 

Starting frontcourt Dakari Johnson and Julius Randle led the charge with a combined 5-for-11, but it was a poor performance from the charity stripe across the board.

For a freshman-laden crew that defied all of the expectations of failure by playing well beyond their years, losing a game due to something as trivial as missed free throws will haunt this Kentucky team.


Worst: Julius Randle Goes Out on a Bad Note

Eric Gay

Kentucky didn't need Julius Randle to be Shabazz Napier on Monday night. It needed Julius Randle to be Julius Randle, and his usual impact just wasn't there.

Randle ended with 10 points and six rebounds. After leading the nation in double-doubles and going up against a small frontcourt, the freshman big man wasn't nearly assertive enough on the boards.

David J. Phillip

That's not the biggest problem, however. Randle only took seven shots, was never in a flow of the offense and wasn't able to make up for that by dominating the glass.

Randle's biggest contributions came on defense and in getting to the free-throw line, but even there he missed three of his seven attempts and contributed to UK's apathy from the charity stripe. 

The highly-touted UK freshman will have plenty of positives to look back on from this March Madness run, but his impact in Monday's title game likely won't be one of them.