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Five Things: UConn’s Defense, Foul Shooting Fuel Championship

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Head coach Kevin Ollie of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating the Kentucky Wildcats 60-54 in the NCAA Men's Final Four Championship at AT&T Stadium on April 7, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. (credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Head coach Kevin Ollie of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating the Kentucky Wildcats 60-54 in the NCAA Men’s Final Four Championship at AT&T Stadium on April 7, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. (credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

NCAA Tourney

By Andrew Kahn

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Against 10 seed Saint Joseph’s, Connecticut got an offensive rebound put-back, plus the foul, from an unlikely source to force overtime. That play doesn’t happen and UConn doesn’t get out of the first round. Last night, the Huskies cut down the nets in Dallas after beating Kentucky 60-54 to win the school’s fourth national championship. Consider that Kentucky needed four straight late escapes to reach the final and you get a sense for what kind of Tournament this was: unpredictable and exciting from start to finish.

In their defense

UConn won the title because of its work on defense. The Huskies held their third straight opponent under 40 percent shooting on Monday. Efficiency-wise, they forced both Kentucky and Florida into their second-worst outputs of the season, according to KenPom. Kentucky had a size advantage in the backcourt—starters Andrew and Aaron Harrison and James Young are all 6’6”—but Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright were pests all night, combining for six of UConn’s nine steals. The Huskies kept the ’Cats from owning the offensive glass and forced them to take more threes (16) than they would have liked.

If only they were free

In a close game like this, the free throw stats appear bigger in the box score. Kentucky shot 13 of 24 (54 percent) from the line, while UConn was a perfect 10 for 10. This wasn’t a huge surprise, as the Huskies’ 77 percent mark this season was fourth-best in the country; Kentucky’s 68 percent figure ranked 252nd. Three straight misses by three different Wildcats when the deficit was four late in the game brought up memories of the 2008 national championship, when John Calipari’s Memphis team missed down the stretch and let Kansas steal a title. Meanwhile, UConn’s terrific foul shooting influenced Calipari’s decision to have his team play defense instead of fouling with under a minute left and his team down four.

The real Rising Star

Kevin Ollie played in the NBA as recently as 2010, when he suited up alongside Kevin Durant with the Oklahoma City Thunder. In his first season as a coach he helped Connecticut, his alma mater, win a national championship as an assistant under Jim Calhoun. Two years later he took over the program when Calhoun retired; NCAA sanctions prevented UConn from playing in the postseason, but he kept his team together and won 20 games. Now, in just his second year as head coach, he’s a national champion. It’s too early to get a feel for what Ollie might want to do with his career, but it’s not hard to imagine other schools and NBA teams showing interest.

How many ’Cats will come back?

Draft Express, which updated its mock drafts last week, projects Kentucky freshmen Julius Randle and James Young, as well as sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein, as first round picks this year. The website has four more current Kentucky players in next year’s mock draft. With another stellar recruiting class on its way, who knows how many of the current ’Cats will leave Lexington.

One Mediocre Moment

I look forward to the “One Shining Moment” music video after every NCAA Tournament, but the past few years have been disappointing. There was the Jennifer Hudson debacle in 2010 and, lately, I’ve felt the montage hasn’t captured the spirit of March Madness. Last night’s rendition was fine, but didn’t meet the madness of the opening round. The action shots were too tight and the footage from outside of the Tournament—players lifting weights and running sprints—was out of place. It’s very possible I’m being overly critical because “One Shining Moment,” no matter how good, means the college basketball season is over.

Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local Sports who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at andrewjkahn@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn

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