|UConn men and women take championship title|
|Tuesday, April 08, 2014 8:09 PM|
Huskies again star in the underdog role
ARLINGTON, Texas — The Connecticut Huskies lost their coach, their teammates, their chance to play at the NCAA tournament for a year. They were castoffs, unwanted mutts without a home, told they had no chance.
Well, look who’s woofing now.
Playing with a chip-on-their-shoulder mentality and poise down the stretch, UConn starred in the underdog role for the second time in four years, knocking off Kentucky 60-54 Monday night in North Texas.
“It feels so good to prove the world wrong,” UConn junior guard Ryan Boatright said.
It was quite a journey to get here.
UConn won a national title in 2011 behind do-it-all guard Kemba Walker. One setback after another followed.
Coach Jim Calhoun retired in 2012. Players left the program, three who transferred away and two who left for the NBA.
The Huskies were barred from the 2013 tournament for failing to meet NCAA academic standards. They scrambled to find a home after the Big East blew up, landing in the American Athletic Conference.
UConn fought its way through last season, winning 20 games despite no hope of playing in the postseason, yet still was dismissed heading into this season.
The Huskies turned a few heads with an opening 9-game winning streak but were given little chance of making a run after stumbling late in the season. Of the 11.01 million brackets submitted on ESPN.com, only 0.3 percent picked them to win it all.
UConn continued to go against the grain of public opinion as it advanced through the bracket, beating the odds while knocking off Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State and top-seeded Florida to reach the championship game.
Again, the Huskies were not supposed to win, told they were no match for the length and athleticism of Kentucky’s one-and-done freshmen, expected to get run over by those speedy ‘Cats.
Again, they wouldn’t listen.
Relying on its veteran leaders, UConn jumped to a big early lead, kept its composure whenever Kentucky tried to make a run and counterpunched every time the Wildcats landed a blow.
Senior Shabazz Napier took what he learned from Walker, his mentor, and became the leader who took the Huskies to a title, finishing with 22 points and six rebounds to bookend his career with national championships.
Gritty Ryan Boatright gave Kentucky fits at both ends all night, scoring 14 points while teaming with Napier to lock down the Wildcats’ heralded twins, Aaron and Andrew Harrison.
Kevin Ollie proved a more-than-able caretaker of the program Calhoun built, creating his own legacy by becoming the first coach to win a national title within two years on his first Division I job since Michigan’s Steve Fisher in 1989.
When it was over and the confetti fell, the seventh-seeded Huskies were on top of the college basketball for the fourth time as a program.
UConn is highest seed to win a national title since Rollie Massimino and eighth-seeded Villanova won it in 1985. The Huskies are the first team since Arizona in 1997 to win a national championship without winning a conference regular-season or tournament title.
They also won the national title without playing in the NCAA tournament or NIT the season before, a first since North Carolina State in 1974.
“You’ve got to continue to believe,” said Napier, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. “We had faith in each other and we are here. We won the whole thing. We didn’t listen to any doubters. We just went out there and did what we had to do.”
UConn’s title served as a validation of sorts for Ollie. He was not an entirely popular choice to lead the Huskies when Calhoun stepped down.
Ollie played in Storrs and had a 13-year NBA career but had never been a coach before joining Calhoun’s staff as an assistant. After two short years, he was handed the reins to one of college basketball’s most storied programs.
The 41-year-old handled it well, combining Calhoun’s old-school methods with his own eternal enthusiasm to urge the Huskies to fight past limitations others placed on them.
By doing so, Ollie not only proved he could fill Calhoun’s shoes, he joined an elite group of Georgetown’s John Thompson, Arkansas’ Nolan Richardson and Kentucky’s Tubby Smith as the black coaches in Division I to lead teams to a national title.
“I just wanted to come in and do this job and nobody looking at my color, just what I’m doing Xs and Os, but most importantly the impact I’m having on young kids’ lives,” Ollie added. “I just want to coach. I want to coach at the greatest university. And I have this job and we’re national champions.”
NBA rumors swirl around Ky. coach John Calipari
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky’s talented freshmen shed a shaky regular season and then showed why the Wildcats were picked No. 1 in the preseason with an impressive run to the NCAA championship game.
After falling short in a 60-54 loss to Connecticut, the annual question is which Kentucky player(s) will leave for the NBA, including John Calipari.
The fifth-year Kentucky coach is used to inquiries but former Kentucky player Rex Chapman turned up the heat Monday by tweeting that Calipari coaching the Los Angeles Lakers was a “done deal.” While Calipari said later that he was happy with the Wildcats and planned to be back at Kentucky, he didn’t completely dismiss the scenario.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Kentucky (29-11) loses forward Julius Randle. Several of his young teammates also are going to mull over their pro prospects.
But the tweet by Chapman, a former Wildcat, shifted some of the scrutiny toward Calipari, whose name frequently pops up about NBA jobs. He has laughed off many of them but the newest seemed to strike a nerve.
Calipari didn’t address the NBA issue during Tuesday’s brief celebration before 3,500 at Rupp Arena in which the runner-up banner hung from the rafters. But he responded to Chapman’s initial comment after the game by saying, “The Lakers have a basketball coach. Kentucky has a basketball coach. I got the best job in the country. I’m not even going to dignify that stuff.”
Chapman’s tweet came just before the Wildcats faced the Huskies in pursuit of their ninth national title and some Kentucky fans blamed him Tuesday on radio talk shows for creating a distraction. Chapman backtracked on his comment Tuesday, saying in a radio interview that he believed Calipari would stay at Kentucky.
As for the players, the question is which of Kentucky’s six high-school All-American recruits will pursue their pro dreams after raising their stock in the tournament.
Randle appears to be the biggest NBA lock after arriving with projections of being a lottery pick. He boosted his profile by averaging 15 points and 10.4 rebounds and posting 24 double-doubles despite being double- and triple-teamed.
Kentucky’s starting backcourt might also enter the draft pool following their performances in the NCAA tournament.
Twins Aaron Harrison — whose back-to-back, game-winning 3-pointers helped put the Wildcats into the final — and Andrew have been listed on some draft boards as first- or second-round picks. James Young is another possibility because of his outside shooting; he led Kentucky with 20 points against UConn.
Sophomore seven-footer Willie Cauley-Stein — who was sidelined for the final three games by an ankle injury — and forward Alex Poythress are also considered prospects. Freshmen post players Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee are expected back.
With all of his players, Calipari said he will discuss their futures soon enough.
UConn routs Notre Dame 79-58, wins 9th title
By DOUG FEINBERG
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Geno Auriemma and Connecticut stand alone in women’s college basketball and they reached the top in unprecedented fashion.
The Huskies routed Notre Dame 79-58 in the first championship game featuring undefeated teams, winning their record ninth national title. Auriemma broke a tie with Pat Summitt and Tennessee for most all-time, doing it in her backyard.
Breanna Stewart, who was The Associated Press Player of the Year, scored 21 points to lead the Huskies (40-0) while Stefanie Dolson added 17 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists. Auriemma took out his senior center with a minute left and the game well in hand with the pair embracing in a long hug.
“We beat a great, great team,” Auriemma said. “Notre Dame is a great team. For them to have the season they had and lose their starting center and to do what they did, I can’t say enough about their players, coaching staff and it took everything we have. I knew if we played great we’d have a chance to win.”
The victory also meant that UConn is now the center of the college basketball world with both the men’s and women’s teams winning the championship in the same year again. The men’s team beat Kentucky in the title game Monday night. This pair of victories came a decade after the Huskies became the only school to accomplish the feat.
“I couldn’t be prouder of what the men did last night,” Auriemma said.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw congratulated the UConn coach when they shook hands after the game.
“I said something like, ‘I thought we were playing the Miami Heat for a while you guys are just that good.’ What a great season, you know things like that,” McGraw said. “I thought … LeBron was the only thing they were missing.”
While the names change at UConn, from Rebecca Lobo to Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and now Stewart, Auriemma has been the constant, winning nine titles in only 20 seasons — including the last two. He’s never lost in a national championship game.
“Congratulations to the UConn Huskies for winning the 2014 NCAA National Championship!” Summitt wrote in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. “My compliments also to coach Geno Auriemma for winning his ninth national title. He has accomplished this feat in record time.”
It was the fifth unbeaten season for Auriemma and UConn and the first time the Huskies went 40-0 — matching Baylor as the only schools to accomplish that feat. The victory was also Connecticut’s 46th straight dating back to last season’s NCAA tournament title run. It’s the third longest streak in school history — well short of the NCAA record 90 straight they won.
The loss was Notre Dame’s third in the title game in the past four years. Kayla McBride finished off her stellar career with 21 points to lead the Irish, who were looking for their first championship since 2001.
After proving to be no challenge for the Huskies during the first 15 years of the rivalry which began in 1995, Notre Dame had owned the series lately, winning seven of the previous nine meetings. UConn though has won the last two, eliminating Notre Dame in the Final Four last season before topping them in the championship game this year.
The two former Big East rivals, who have no love lost for each other, put on a show in a game that women’s basketball hoped could transcend the sport. The coaches added to the drama of the game with their verbal sparring on Monday. But it was Auriemma who got the last word again.
Even with the loss, it was a spectacular season for the Irish. Notre Dame lost Skylar Diggins to graduation and changed conferences to the ACC. Neither mattered as they ran through their opponents, winning by an average of 25.6 points while taking both the conference regular season and tournament championships.
The Irish lost senior Natalie Achonwa to a torn ACL in the regional final win over Baylor. Notre Dame wore warmup shirts with Achonwa’s nickname “Ace” below her No. 11.
The team played inspired basketball in the Final Four win over Maryland where Notre Dame outrebounded the Terps by a record margin. The Irish couldn’t muster a similar effort against UConn and it’s gigantic front line. Stewart, Dolson and Kiah Stokes dominated the interior. The Huskies outrebounded the Irish 54-31 and held them to a season-low in points.
After the teams traded shots early on, Stewart — who earned outstanding player of the tournament honors for the second straight season — fueled a 16-0 run as the Huskies, who have played stellar defense all season, held the Irish without a point for nearly five minutes. Stewart’s layin with 11:02 left made it 22-8.
A minute later, Dolson had an acrobatic tip to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis for another layup.
The Irish stayed in the first half by hot 3-point shooting by Michaela Mabrey and Jewell Loyd. Trailing 37-25 with 4:09 left in the first half, the pair sparked a 13-6 run, hitting three 3-pointers which brought the Irish faithful to their feet.
UConn led 45-38 at the half, shooting 57 percent from the field and having 16 assists on their 21 baskets.
The Huskies closed the door on any Irish comeback scoring 18 of the first 22 points in the second half to put the game away. Stewart and Dolson had 10 points during the burst.
“I’m probably one of the luckiest people in the coaching profession because I get to coach players like Stefanie and Bria” Hartley, Auriemma added, fighting back tears. “Yeah, I get to coach guys like that and that’s why we can do what we do.”
|Last Updated on Tuesday, April 08, 2014 8:16 PM|