UConn’s dreams looked like a nightmare early in the game. Jumpers weren’t falling, they had problems handling the ball, they couldn’t defend without fouling, and Walker and Lamb were sitting on the bench in foul trouble, but this team continued to battle. They relied on some unheralded players, making key contributions to keep themselves within reach. They then put together one of the greatest defensive performances in tournament history in the second half. They walled off the rim, used their length to frustrate the Bulldogs, and kept Butler to jumpers or off-balanced shots around the rim. They also dominated the boards and didn’t allow second chance opportunities. Sure Butler struggled to hit open shots, but they were few and far between and UConn put a stamp to arguably the greatest run in the history of the NCAA by winning five games in five days and then winning the National Championship.
And they couldn’t have done it without Walker who walked away with the M.V.P. award. The night didn’t start out the way that he would’ve liked. His jumper was catching iron and he was forcing the issue. He had trouble with ball screens and found himself picking up a touch foul. With only two jumpers and a lay-up, he picked up his second foul with a charge and went to the bench. In the second half, he hit an early jumper, was able to get to the line a couple of times, and had a great up and under lay-up. His performance throughout this run has been amazing, especially since teams are tailoring their defenses to stop him. It has been a pleasure to watch him throughout his career.
Lamb also struggled out of the gate. He missed most of his shots early and quickly found himself on the bench with two fouls, but all that changed in the second half. He was able to hit a three pointer, get to the line, get a steal and dunk, and wall all over the boards. He has been the most impressive freshman to come to Storrs in some time and could possibly be a better pro then Walker. UConn hasn’t had a player with his complete game in some time. All that he is lacking is a post game.
Oriakhi had an up and down season, but ended it on a high note. They force fed him early and he responded with two hook shots, but like Walker and Lamb, he quickly picked up his second foul. It didn’t take long for him to make an impact in the second half though, blocking any attempt that Butler threw his way. He also made another hook shot, a 15-footer, and a dunk. It was his best game of the tournament and he was key to pulling out this victory. He dominated tonight. Okwandu played solid defense and had a lay-up, but also had a sloppy turnover. His length caused havoc on the smaller Butler squad and his help defense has been key to UConn’s run. It is a shame that he is finally hitting his stride as a player to only leave the team.
Napier had an uneven game. He has been in a slump offensively but he is driving to the rim more and is being rewarded with easy dimes, trips to the line or lay-ups. He also did a fantastic job defensively and is one of the best on the ball defenders ever for a freshman and he has a chance to be a true superstar. Beverly had a jumper and did a good job while Kemba and Lamb sat on the bench with foul trouble. His role has been underrated but crucial to sustaining this run. Olander had another early contribution with a hook shot, boards, and played solid defense. Giffey also played well and had a running lay-up, but also had a bad inbounds pass and had another sloppy turnover. Smith continued to struggle with his jumper and is not even looking for his shots anymore. He did have a few blocks and helped out on the boards. His talent is so apparent but it takes a little longer for wing players to get it.
What an ending to a magical season! Who thought at the beginning of the year that this could’ve been possible? Not with a group of freshmen, two seniors, two sophomores, led by a budding superstar, but here they are cutting down the nets. Simply amazing and what makes everyone dream that their team can have that shot. That no matter what the pundits say, or how the rankings shake out, that the ball must be tipped up in center court and it doesn’t end for forty minutes. Everyone has a shot at the dream, all you need hard work, a few breaks, and belief. It is a microcosm of what makes this country great and why we keep coming back each and every year, because sometimes dreams do come true.