NCAA Championship Game 2014: Report Card for Kentucky vs. UConn
The 2014 NCAA championship game is in the books, with the UConn Huskies becoming the first-ever No. 7 seed to cut down the nets. Just because UConn won and Kentucky lost, though, doesn’t mean that the individual performances all went the way of the final score.
UConn center Phillip Nolan, for example, endured a dreadful game even by the low standards of this season’s UConn centers. Kentucky’s James Young, on the other hand, played one of his best games of the year, slashing through the Huskies’ otherwise-stout defense for a team-high 20 points.
Herein, a closer look at Nolan, Young, and all the rest of the 16 players who appeared in Monday night’s title clash. Each player is graded for his performance in this game only.
Marcus Lee, Kentucky
Whatever confidence Marcus Lee might have earned from John Calipari over the last couple of games, it didn’t show on Monday night. Lee got just six minutes of action against the Huskies.
He didn’t really accomplish anything—good or bad—in his limited minutes, committing a foul for his only appearance in the box score. Considering the relative strength of UConn’s bench, the production Lee didn’t provide certainly would’ve been welcome for Big Blue.
Dominique Hawkins, Kentucky
Dominique Hawkins never looked comfortable in his brief stint on the floor. That may be why John Calipari didn’t go back to him in spite of the trouble Kentucky had with UConn’s quickness in the backcourt.
Hawkins managed not to turn the ball over, but he also didn’t produce any points (including a pair of missed free throws). His only positive for seven minutes of work was a single rebound.
Alex Poythress, Kentucky
The good news for Alex Poythress was that he played on Monday night with the same intensity and abandon that have made him so valuable in the NCAA tournament.
The bad news was that he forgot to temper it with enough court sense, resulting in four fouls that severely curtailed his effectiveness.
When he wasn’t sending a team of deadeye free-throw shooters to the foul line, Poythress did record four points and five rebounds. He also committed just one turnover in 17 minutes, a win as far as this Kentucky offense is concerned.
Dakari Johnson, Kentucky
Although Dakari Johnson came up with a pair of blocked shots against UConn, it was the defensive plays he failed to make that loomed largest.
Unable to maneuver his 7’0”, 265-pound bulk through the gauntlet of UConn’s repeated pick-and-roll looks, Johnson spent large chunks of the second half on the bench.
He also had far more trouble getting his shot off than Kentucky fans are used to, scoring only five points on 2-of-5 shooting from the field.
His four rebounds weren’t a disaster by his standards, but they certainly weren’t what the ‘Cats needed in this game, either.
Julius Randle, Kentucky
For a few plays on Monday night, Julius Randle looked like the unstoppable star who won SEC Freshman of the Year honors. For the rest, a gimpy ankle weighed down his numbers and kept him well within the province of mere mortals on the stat sheet.
Randle finished with 10 points and six rebounds, though he did play some of the best defense he’s managed all year. He also handed out four assists, helping to compensate for the three free throws he missed in seven attempts.
James Young, Kentucky
With the rest of the Wildcats’ perimeter weapons locked down by quicker defenders, James Young filled the void. Knifing into the paint on possession after possession, he scored 20 points to double up the next-highest Kentucky player.
His five three-point tries weren’t always the smartest shots, but he did hit two of them to go with his outstanding 8-of-9 foul shooting. He topped off a valiant one-man show by grabbing a game-high seven rebounds.
Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
The game wasn’t close enough for Aaron Harrison to win it with one all-or-nothing shot, and he didn’t do enough to win it with the seven he took.
The clutch specialist finished with just seven points, including a lone three-pointer from much the same spot as Saturday’s game-winner.
Harrison didn’t do a whole lot besides scoring, recording four rebounds and two steals. He did manage a block, a rarity for any guard (even a 6’6” one).
Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
Although Andrew Harrison’s four turnovers were the biggest factor in a 13-giveaway night for the ‘Cats, he played a solid game overall.
The youngster’s growth as a floor leader continued to show with five more assists, and he pulled down five rebounds as well.
His most impressive trick, though, was snatching three steals against a Huskies team that usually protects the ball extremely well. Maybe if he’d shot a little better than 3-of-9 from the field, those steals would’ve made more of a difference.
Terrence Samuel, UConn
Terrence Samuel has been either on or off as a scorer in this NCAA tournament, and on Monday, he was off. In 11 minutes, he did hit the only shot he attempted, but that left the freshman with all of two points on the night.
Samuel did add a rebound and a steal to his tally, but it’s hard to get too enthusiastic about such minimal numbers. He also committed a turnover in his brief time on the floor.
Amida Brimah, UConn
Shot-blocking specialist Amida Brimah got beaten at his own game on Monday night, with blocks being one of the only categories in which Kentucky actually outperformed the Huskies, 5-4.
Brimah did have one of UConn’s rejections, but he came up empty in the scoring column.
However, the most important number on Brimah’s ledger is the four rebounds he recorded. Even as he staggered his way to four fouls, he managed to play a significant part in keeping the Huskies (improbably) on top in the rebounding battle.
Lasan Kromah, UConn
In a game filled with flashy plays on both ends, it was easy to miss Lasan Kromah. He wasn’t making rim-rattling dunks or elastic-limbed rejections, but he quietly put together a valuable game for the Huskies.
Kromah—who completed a graduate transfer’s dream season by leaving second-round loser George Washington for the national champs—finished with four points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal.
He struggled with his shot from the floor (1-of-4) but did hit a pair of free throws as part of the Huskies’ perfect 10-of-10 night.
Phillip Nolan, UConn
It doesn’t get much worse than the game Phillip Nolan played for 19 minutes on Monday night. He didn’t score on any of his three shots, he got only one rebound (at 6’10”) and he made a good run at fouling out.
Nolan’s one steal did contribute to Kentucky’s 13-turnover night, but if his team hadn't come out on top, he’d get a failing grade here.
DeAndre Daniels, UConn
If it weren’t for his stratospheric expectations, DeAndre Daniels would’ve had a perfectly solid game against Kentucky. The junior forward amassed eight points, six rebounds and two blocks while playing a major role in containing Julius Randle.
Obviously, those numbers pale in comparison to the double-doubles and 20-point scoring nights Daniels has been putting up during March Madness.
Taken on its own merits, though, his performance on Monday night gave the Huskies as much as they needed from the frontcourt to win the game, even with precious little contribution from anybody else.
Niels Giffey, UConn
Senior sniper Niels Giffey has perhaps the least chance of an NBA career of any player who appeared in this game.
As such, Giffey has his priorities in order for a national title showdown, declaring in the postgame press conference, “It's not about going to the next level, it's not about going to the pros, but playing for your university, playing for your teammates.”
He won his second national championship by living up to that philosophy, stroking a pair of three-pointers in a 10-point, five-rebound effort. He single-handedly disrupted Kentucky’s attempt to slow UConn with a 2-3 zone, and he even blocked a shot (his 19th of the year).
Ryan Boatright, UConn
If he hadn’t tweaked an ankle late in the game, Ryan Boatright might have had a chance to outscore all eight Kentucky players instead of only seven.
His 14 points were second on his own roster to Shabazz Napier, but his 5-of-6 shooting from the field was the best showing for either side.
Boatright also played his usual impenetrable defense, grabbing three steals and keeping either Harrison twin from reaching double figures in scoring. He even had time to pull down four rebounds and hand out three assists (out of eight for the entire UConn team).
Shabazz Napier, UConn
Shabazz Napier’s prolific scoring and clutch shooting drew comparisons to mentor Kemba Walker all year, and now he (like Walker) has led UConn to a national championship.
ESPN Stats & Info notes another similarity, tweeting that he “joins Kemba Walker, Derrick Rose & Larry Bird as the only players with 125 points, 25 rebounds and 25 assists in a single NCAA Tournament.”
Monday’s share of those lofty stats saw Napier put up 22 points, six boards and three assists, along with three steals. There have been few easier Most Outstanding Player votes in Final Four history.