JOE BIDDLE: Kentucky can't catch champion Connecticut - WKRN News 2

JOE BIDDLE: Kentucky can't catch champion Connecticut

Posted: Updated: April 8, 2014 12:41 AM

Kentucky cheated elimination one too many times during its NCAA Tournament run.

The 8-seeded Cats had trailed four opponents at halftime in the tournament, but had been able to put them away in the second half and advance to the national championship game against Connecticut Monday night.

Connecticut caught Kentucky Cat-napping in the first half and a frigid night at the free throw line was enough to send Coach John Calipari's Cats home empty-handed. They had to watch Connecticut cut down the nets after holding on for a 60-54 win.

"We had our chances to win,'' said Calipari. "We're missing shots. We're missing free throws. We just didn't have enough.''

Kentucky was only 13 of 24 from the free throw line, while UConn was perfect on 10 charity shots. Led by senior guard's Shabazz Napier's 22 points, Coach Kevin Ollie won his first national championship in only his second year on the job at his alma mater.

Napier's backcourt partner, Ryan Boatright, chipped in 14 points, as UConn's backcourt outplayed Kentucky's heralded Harrison twins.

Calipari's Cats also had difficulty hitting the mark from the floor. They were only 18 of 46 for 39.1 percent. It was the worst possible time for the last SEC team standing to go cold.

They failed to use their height advantage on a scrap-iron tough Connecticut team that utilized its experience to overcome a freshman-laden Kentucky team that caught fire in the NCAA Tournament and came up just short in its chase for the championship.

"Every 50-50 ball they got,'' Calipari noted. "They just had more energy. The only thing that slowed them down was us going into a zone (defense).

"We hung in there and gave ourselves a chance and made the baskets coming out at half. I thought we were going to win the game.''

It was not to be for this Kentucky team ranked No. 1 in preseason polls. They struggled to find any cohesion and dropped all the way out of the polls at one point. They got their act together late in the season, just in time to make a run at college basketball's biggest prize.

Connecticut proved it is truly a championship caliber school. Its women's team is undefeated and will play undefeated Notre Dame Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena in the women's national championship game.

The UConn men were up to the task Monday night, putting the finishing touches on a 32-8 season. Ollie had his team ready to roll and they jumped up early and often on Kentucky, a team that ended up 29-11.

Kentucky's James Young gave the Cats a spark in the second half. They trailed by one point with 8:19 remaining. But Big Shot Aaron Harrison missed an open 3-point shot from the left corner and UK never got that close again.
 
UConn held several four-point leads down the stretch and the Cats had to settle for second.

It remains to be seen how many of Calipari's cast will be one-and-done players who play a year and jump to the NBA. He has been successful for years with his plan, and he was only one step away from winning another national title.

It was a season that saw the Southeastern Conference put its two best teams in the Final Four field. They were two of the last four teams in the country, but No. 1 Florida went down in its semifinal game and Connecticut put the final SEC team out.

"We've been through a lot this season,'' said UK center Julius Randle. "How we kept fighting and we were able to make this run just says a lot about the guys.

"I just hate it ended this way.''

Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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