Call them steely, cold and deadly and you would be right on all three counts. A seasoned Connecticut team made history twice in winning the 2014 NCAA March Madness Tournament against a game Kentucky team with 5 freshmen starters.
Connecticut’s charge was led by 6-foot-1 senior guard Shabazz Napier, who proved to be the biggest player on the floor, scoring 22 points, grabbing 6 rebounds and getting 3 assists. Napier– the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, a first-team All-American on everyone’s ballot, and the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament–did it on both ends of the court. He had Aaron Harrison’s number.
Tournament followers remember Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison. Harrison rattled in a 26-footer with 5 seconds to go in Kentucky’s 74-73 win over Wisconsin in the semifinals. He made almost the exact same 3-point shot with 2 seconds to play against Michigan for a 75-72 win that sent the Wildcats to the Final Four. And against Louisville he hit a 3-pointer with 39 seconds left to give Kentucky the lead for good in a 74-69 victory.
But not in the national championship game, as Shabazz Napier held Aaron Harrison to a 3-for-7, 7-point night without any last-second heroics. Harrison and his Kentucky teammates had an incredible tournament; they just didn’t win the national title game.
Napier, a senior point guard, and this band of players with experience—senior small forward Niels Giffey, junior shooting guard Ryan Boatright, junior power forward DeAndre Daniels, and sophomore center Phillip Nolan—showed Kentucky’s 5 freshmen starters how to get it done.
So Connecticut becomes the first 7th-seed in history to reach the Final Four, and makes history again by winning the national title for the 4th time.
Some obscure but interesting facts:
Connecticut came into the game shooting 88% (81 for 92) from the free throw line; in the championship game they shot 100% (10-for-10). Four of the five starters for Connecticut played on the Huskies 2011 national championship team. Coming into the final, Shabazz Napier had scored 30% of Connecticut’s points in the tournament; he scored 36% in the championship game (22 of 60 points).
Kentucky had outscored its opponents in the paint 80-56 after halftime coming into the final game, and had 4 Wildcats in double figures in the 3 prior tournament qualifying games; in the final, only 2 players scored in double figures.
Here are some of the highlights from the qualifying games to get to the championship game:
For pure excitement, #8 Kentucky’s 74-73 win over #2 Wisconsin was the best game, led by Aaron Harrison’s 3-pointer with 5 seconds left to lift the Wildcats to victory.
Maybe legacy helped in this one. Wisconsin was in the Final Four for the first time since 2000, and had not won a national title since 1941 in an 8-team tournament (just a little less crowded than the 64-team field in today’s tournament). Kentucky was in its 16th Final Four (that’s right, 16 times), and had already won 8 national championships, the most recent two years ago in 2012.
The Wisconsin Badgers came ready to do battle. The Badgers had the 2nd lowest fouls per game of any team in the country, were leading the nation in the fewest turnovers per game (8), and had outscored their opponents in the 2nd half of 4 tournament games by 160 to 103. In the 2nd half against Kentucky, the Badgers scored 33 points and Kentucky 38. End of story.
In the other qualifier, #1 Florida had more talent on the floor than #7 Connecticut, but the Huskie talent came to play and Florida didn’t. At times, despite the 63-53 game score, it appeared that Florida’s players were standing around waiting for something to happen; something did happen, they lost.
Florida had 11 turnovers and a season-low 3 assists (talk about standing around). The Gators, rated #1 among all teams coming into the tournament, had won all of their tournament games by at least 10 points when they played Connecticut. Florida also had a 30-game winning streak coming in; the Gators last defeat was to this same Connecticut team in early December.
Connecticut started cold and finished hot. The Huskies shot 56% from the floor against a Florida team that had held opponents all year to 40% shooting from the floor. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut’s all everything player, only had 12 points and 6 assists in this one, but was helped when teammate DeAndre Daniels had his best game of the tournament, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
Daniels two 3-pointers in a span of 1:43 helped ignite the Huskies after they had fallen behind 16-4 early in the game.
Experience does matter. Connecticut was 6-1 all time in the Final Four, the best win percentage in history among schools that have played at least three Final Four games. The Huskies pushed that record to 8-1 after winning its 4th national title against Kentucky. Connecticut’s previous titles were in 1999, 2004 and 2011.
Here is a recap of the 2014 NCAA March Madness Tournament:
National Championship Game to Determine the 2014 NCAA Champion:
#7 Connecticut beats #8 Kentucky, 60-54, for the 2014 National Title.
Final Four Elimination Games:
#1 Florida was upset by #7 Connecticut 63-53
#2 Wisconsin was upset by #8 Kentucky 74-73
National Semifinals to Determine the Final 4:
#2 Michigan is upset by #8 Kentucky 75-72
#1 Arizona was upset by #2 Wisconsin 64-63 in Overtime
#4 Michigan State is upset by #7 Connecticut 60-54
#1 Florida eliminated #11 Dayton 62-52
Regional Finals to Determine the Elite 8:
#2 Michigan eliminated #11 Tennessee 73-71
#4 Louisville was upset by #8 Kentucky 74-69
#1 Arizona eliminated #4 San Diego State 70-64
#2 Wisconsin eliminated #6 Baylor 69-52
#1 Virginia was upset by #4 Michigan State 61-59
#3 Iowa State was upset by #7 Connecticut 81-76
#1 Florida eliminated #4 UCLA 79-68
#10 Stanford was upset by #11 Dayton 82-72
2014 NCAA Tournament Regional Semifinals in Round 3 to Determine the Sweet 16:
#1 Wichita State was upset by #8 Kentucky 78-76
#2 Michigan eliminated #7 Texas 79-65
#4 Louisville eliminated #5 Saint Louis 66-51
#11 Tennessee eliminated #14 Mercer 83-63
#1 Arizona eliminated #8 Gonzaga 84-61
#2 Wisconsin eliminated #7 Oregon 85-77
#3 Creighton was upset by #6 Baylor 85-55
#4 San Diego State eliminated #12 North Dakota State 63-44
#1 Virginia eliminated #8 Memphis 78-60
#2 Villanova was upset by #7 Connecticut 77-65
#3 Iowa State eliminated #6 North Carolina 85-83
#4 Michigan State eliminated #12 Harvard 80-73
#1 Florida eliminated #9 Pittsburgh 61-45
#2 Kansas was upset by #10 Stanford 60-57
#3 Syracuse was upset by #11 Dayton 55-53
#4 UCLA eliminated #12 Stephen F. Austin 77-60
2014 NCAA Tournament Results for Round 2 to Determine the 32 Teams Advancing:
#1 Wichita State eliminated #18 Cal Poly 64-37
#2 Michigan eliminated #15 Wofford 57-40
#3 Duke was upset by #14 Mercer 78-71
#4 Louisville eliminated #13 Manhattan 71-64
#5 Saint Louis eliminated #12 North Carolina State 83-76 in Overtime
#6 Massachusetts was upset by #11Tennessee 86-67
#7 Texas eliminated #10 Arizona State 87-85
#8 Kentucky eliminated #9 Kansas State 56-49
#1 Arizona eliminated #16 Weber State 68-59
#2 Wisconsin eliminated #15 American 75-35
#3 Creighton eliminated #14 Louisiana-Lafayette 76-66
#4 San Diego State eliminated #13 New Mexico State 73-69 in Overtime
#5 Oklahoma was upset by #12 North Dakota State 80-75 in Overtime
#6 Baylor eliminated #11 Nebraska 74-60
#7 Oregon eliminated #10 Brigham Young 87-68
#8 Gonzaga eliminated #9 Oklahoma State 85-77
#1 Virginia eliminated #15 Coastal Carolina 70-59
#2 Villanova eliminated #15 Wisconsin-Milwaukee 73-53
#3 Iowa State eliminated #14 North Carolina Central 93-75
#4 Michigan State eliminated #13 Delaware 93-78
#5 Cincinnati was upset by #12 Harvard 61-57
#6 North Carolina eliminated #11 Providence 79-77
#7 Connecticut eliminated #10 Saint Joseph’s 89-81 in Overtime
#8 Memphis eliminated #9 George Washington 71-66
#1 Florida eliminated #16 Albany 67-55
#2 Kansas eliminated #15 Eastern Kentucky 80-69
#3 Syracuse eliminated #14 Western Michigan 77-53
#4 UCLA eliminated #13 Tulsa 76-59
#5 Virginia Commonwealth was upset by upset by #12 Stephen F. Austin 77-75 in Overtime
#6 Ohio State was upset by #11 Dayton 60-59
#7 New Mexico was upset by #10 Stanford 58-53
#8 Colorado was upset by #9 Pittsburgh 77-48
2014 NCAA Tournament Results for the Round 1 Winner Play-In Games to the Field of 64:
#11 Tennessee eliminated #11 Iowa 78-65
#12 North Carolina State eliminated #12 Xavier 74-59
#16 Cal Poly eliminated #16 Texas Southern 81-69
#16 Albany eliminated #16 Mount St. Mary’s 71-64