Daily Word: UConn is last team standing
Andy Katz leads a panel of our college hoops experts in a discussion of the biggest issues, trends and themes happening in and around college basketball.
1. What's the No. 1 reason UConn is holding the national championship trophy?
Andy Katz: Defense. So much was made of UConn's guard leadership. But it is the Huskies' lockdown defense that should be celebrated. The Huskies held three straight opponents -- Michigan State, Florida and Kentucky -- to under 60 points.
Dana O'Neil: Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright's defense. The two did to Kentucky exactly what they did to Michigan State and Florida: pestering the guards into turnovers and disrupting the offense. Their quickness made up for their lack of height and ultimately led the Huskies to the title.
Myron Medcalf: Because Kevin Ollie showed this team how to play together during a hectic, three-week stretch. It's amazing how much different this UConn team, the one that won the title, looked compared with the one that Louisville whipped by 33 points a month ago. Same personnel. But the attitude changed. Napier's heroics were the most pivotal on-court contribution. Ollie, however, is responsible for the way that they jelled during the most crucial juncture of the season.
2. What's the No. 1 reason Kentucky isn't?
Katz: The Wildcats lacked offensive flow at critical times. James Young was the one Kentucky player who seemed to take advantage of broken plays to create. The Wildcats weren't totally in sync offensively, in large part because of the Huskies' defense.
O'Neil: The Wildcats played with too many stops and starts. There wasn't enough offensive consistency to their game, and when they needed to turn the jets on one more time, they couldn't.
Medcalf: Free throws. Kentucky lost by six and made just 54 percent of its free throws (13-for-24). Its 5-for-16 mark from the 3-point line (Aaron Harrison came back to earth and shot 1-for-5 from beyond the arc) was a factor, too. But UConn was 10-for-10 from the line and Kentucky missed nearly half of its attempts.
3. What was the most memorable moment from this NCAA tournament?
Katz: Aaron Harrison's 3-pointer to beat Wisconsin is probably the one that will stick. That was a crushing blow to the Badgers and catapulted Kentucky to the national title game. You could feel the emotional swing within AT&T Stadium on Saturday night. The Wildcats didn't win the national championship, but Harrison's shot should be yet another iconic image in Kentucky basketball history.
O'Neil: Shabazz Napier and his mother, Carmen Velasquez, stood right outside the 3-point line after the game and hugged and cried. Connecticut was getting ready to cut the nets, but Napier wanted the moment with his mother, the woman he credits for making him the man and the player he is.
Medcalf: I'd like to say Mercer's postgame NaeNae dance. But if we're talking basketball, then it's probably Aaron Harrison's game-winning shots. I can't pick one. That shot against Michigan was nuts. And the one against Wisconsin was even more breathtaking. Kentucky didn't win the crown, but the Wildcats certainly took us on a ride.
The Latest Dish
UConn relied on its defense to win the national championship -- the Huskies held their final three opponents (Michigan State, Florida and Kentucky) to under 60 points -- but another secret to their NCAA tournament success can be found on the charity stripe.
The Huskies shot 88 percent from the free throw line in the tourney (101-115), including 10-of-10 in the title game. The Wildcats, conversely, hit only 54 percent in the title game (13-24).
Old Dogs, New Tricks
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Believe. That's the word everyone used. The players, the coach, his wife, the mothers. Everyone associated with Connecticut kept coming back to "believe."
It's a powerful tool, the power of conviction, the kind that can change the world and, yes, rebuild a basketball program.
Two years ago, Kevin Ollie told his Connecticut players that they were going to get through APR sanctions, a coaching change and player defections, and come out on the other side a stronger, better team.
And they believed him.
Three months ago, after the Huskies lost to Louisville at home, Shabazz Napier gathered his teammates in the locker room and told them a crazy tale. He told them they were going to end the season holding the national championship trophy.
And they believed him.
Two months ago, Ryan Boatright went home to bury his cousin, a young man who was more like a brother than a cousin. Boatright's mother sent her son back to college and told him not to worry, that Arin Williams would be with him.
And he believed her.
Now, finally, maybe everyone will believe in UConn. Counted out of virtually every game since this NCAA tournament began, the Huskies are now the national champions, 60-54 winners over Kentucky.
A year ago, the Huskies weren't allowed to play in the tournament.
And now they own it.
To read the rest of Dana O'Neil's story, click here.