Hungry Huskies Write Storybook Ending to Redemption Tale with 2014 NCAA Title

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Hungry Huskies Write Storybook Ending to Redemption Tale with 2014 NCAA Title
Tony Gutierrez/AP Images

ARLINGTON, Texas — Former Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun stood on the floor late on Monday night with confetti at his feet and remembered back to a trip he took to visit Dean Smith at North Carolina in 1986.

It was shortly before he took the job at Connecticut, but he had a vision of what he wanted to build.

"They didn't have a team; they had a program," Calhoun said. "And I always envisioned someday hopefully people talk about UConn being a program, something that carries on beyond one player, one coach, one team."

Well, that program was soiled and left for probation after an NCAA tournament ban last season due to the program's poor academic performance. That program had enough stink on it that no one wanted the Huskies when the old Big East parted ways a year ago. This team was counted out after a 33-point loss to Louisville on the final day of the regular season.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

How do you like them now?

The Huskies are champs, knocking off Kentucky 60-54 on Monday night to become the lowest seed (a seven) to win since Villanova in 1985. Knocking off another blue blood to give them a fourth title in 15 years.

What happened Monday night wasn't a redemption story. This was about staying power.

"This is what happens when you ban us," Napier told America, well, most specifically the NCAA.

Napier had his own vision as he laid in bed in his hotel room Sunday night, thinking back to last year's NCAA postseason ban. He saw himself standing on that podium Monday night and thought up what he would say.

"When you stop, when you prevent us from trying to go to the postseason, and it wasn't our fault, we worked since that day on," Napier said. "Coach Ollie told us, this is going to be a two-year plan, and since that day on we believed."

"Eighteen months go, we was last," Kevin Ollie said. "And now we're first, because they believed."

Charlie Neibergall

Belief is a powerful thing. Because this was one of the most improbable runs in the history of the game.
Should we have expected it? No.

But should we have expected UConn to fall off the map when Calhoun retired with the program's reputation at stake? Definitely not. Especially with a backcourt like Napier and Ryan Boatright.

The narrative that we'll probably remember from this tournament is that Napier pulled a Kemba Walker, putting his team on his back and carrying it to a title much like Walker did in 2011.

"Shabazz was Shabazz," Calhoun said. "He controlled the game. It was his game. Although (Ryan Boatright) early got us off to a great start."

Calhoun quickly rephrased his message and gave praise to several other Huskies. And we should remember that. 

This wouldn't have happened without DeAndre Daniels going for 27 points against Iowa State, or without Ryan Boatright playing some of the best perimeter defense anyone has ever played in the tournament.

Boatright himself almost didn't make it here. His cousin, Arin Williams, was shot and killed in early January in Boatright's hometown of Aurora, Ill.

Boatright's mother said her son nearly stepped away from the game this year because of the pain he felt from his cousin's death.

Tanesha Boatright said her son told her on Sunday night, "He not here with me but I know he's with me."

The junior guard played inspired ball throughout this run, but especially Monday night when he hurt his ankle but was unwilling to come out of the game.

"I just tied my shoe tighter," he said.

Poetic. This was a group of young guys who have been doing that for two years.

"You're going to get hit, knocked down," Boatright said. "You've just got to tighten your shoes tighter, link up with your brothers and anything is possible."

It also helps when you have the quickest, baddest dudes in college basketball on your side. And that's what Napier and Boatright were.

Every time Kentucky would get close, one of the two would bury an unguardable jumper off the dribble. Napier scored 22 points and Boatright scored 14. They also combined to hold the Harrison brothers to 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting.

"Those freshmen are terrific talents, but they don't know certain aspects of the game that we do," Napier said.

David J. Phillip

The Wildcats had overcome their own obstacles and their own critics this year, and it was an unbelievable run.

But they had not suffered like the Huskies had suffered. Their wounds didn't even have long enough to scab over.

"They've got something special inside of them and I just wanted them to step outside of their egos and play basketball the right way," Ollie said. "That's what they've been doing through this magical run. When we lost by 33 to Louisville, everybody said we were over with. These guys have been through so much.

"When there were dark days, they stayed together and now we're seeing the light and it's real good to see the emotions in our faces. Because they're the ones that stayed with it and believed and a lot of other people didn't."

Those scabs are gone now. And the Huskies didn't really ever go anywhere, but there's no doubt now with Ollie in charge that this is a program with some staying power. He'll have a strong nucleus returning next season and the program sells itself after two titles in four years and four titles since 1999. 

The dream is real now for Calhoun after all these years. 

"Maintaining greatness, eliteness as we have," the old coach said, "that's really a son of a gun."

 

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.

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