No one had the University of Connecticut Huskies winning it all. I had them losing to Villanova in the second round. They needed overtime to get out of the second round against Saint Joseph’s in their first game. Then they defeated #1, #2, #3 and #4 seeds to advance to the Final against a talented Kentucky team and held the lead from beginning to end in winning their second championship in four years.
Shabazz Napier, winner of two NCAA championships, walked away as Most Outstanding Player, saving the best for the last game of his collegiate career. Napier scored 22 points on 8-16 shooting, with three steals and a team-high six rebounds. But it is Napier’s confidence that was his biggest asset. Time and time again, his teammates fed off of his energy, and Napier responded consistently, making the big shot, the big pass and the big steal when UConn needed it most. “Most of the time my teammates tell me to be more aggressive,” Napier told me after their big win over Michigan State at Madison Square Garden.
The UConn victory is also a testament to head coach Kevin Ollie. Two years ago when Jim Calhoun retired, the program was one in the midst of a struggle. Not only had the Huskies lost a coach who had won three titles, they were also suspended from the post season for one year, were exiting the Big East Conference, and faced the possibility of top players leaving. Ollie not only retained top talents like Napier and Ryan Boatright, but won the NCAA tournament in his first opportunity to compete in it. It was a fairytale ending for the former UConn player, who had a successful NBA career before returning Connecticut as an assistant.
Though Napier is moving on and will play on the next level in the NBA, the Huskies have good senior leadership in Boatright and DeAndre Daniels. Many who root for UConn, including members of the university administration, wondered if Kevin Ollie could get the job done. He exceeded expectations and more. Congratulations to the Huskies, and the program is in good hands going into the future.
Below are interviews with many of the UConn players, including Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.