Tuesday, April 8, 2014

UConn Huskies 2014 National Champions

First off, wow. Did this really just happen? Now that that is off the table we can get into the game. It was a battle of two wills. UConn wanted to use their defense to create easy and early offensive opportunities. While Kentucky wanted to use their brute force down low to put UConn into foul trouble and get second chance opportunities. UConn won the battle early on, jumping out to a 15 point lead with Napier, Daniels, and Boatright all getting whatever looks they wanted, but Kentucky’s aggressiveness put Daniels and Boatright on the bench with two fouls each. The momentum immediately switched as Kromah and Samuels made costly turnovers and Napier settled for jumpers. They treaded water, making one play for every two of Kentucky’s and the Wildcats slowly chipped away, closing out the half to get within a possession of the lead.

The second half started out like the first half ended. UConn had a hard time getting their offense going and the defense struggled to keep Kentucky off the line, but luckily for them, the Wildcats had a hard time knocking them down, which ultimately cost them the game. UConn made just enough plays down the stretch to keep the lead, even though Kentucky came within one possession several times. With UConn’s big men in foul trouble, Ollie went small ball and mixed in the zone. The small unit more than held their own on the boards. That helped space the floor and they made just enough jumpers to stretch the lead to two possessions and held on for the victory. It wasn’t a well played game. Give Kentucky credit. They frustrated UConn with the zone, but many of Connecticut’s errors were self-inflicted. They were the best team out there right from the tip and it seemed like they would either win this or lose it on their own accord, but this team never gave in to the frustration and stared defeat in the eyes several times and made just enough stops to hold onto the lead for the improbable victory.

Napier looked aggressive early on. He took every open look and there were plenty. He knocked down three 3-pointers, had a nifty lay-up in traffic, and had two of his shots goal-tended, but once Boatright and Daniels were on the bench, he began to settle for jumpers. His frustration level grew in the second half and it began to effect his game. He had some sloppy turnovers, bad passes, but like a true champion, he fought through it and made some crucial plays down the stretch. It wasn’t his best game, but he was the catalyst and UConn rode him to the finish line.

Boatright came out with contagious energy. In the first half, he had two lay-ups, a jumper, and hit two free throws on a hard foul, but he also had a lazy pass that led to a dunk. His defense frustrated Kentucky but he soon found himself in foul trouble and had to sit on the bench. He came out in the second half with an early jumper, but then rolled his ankle. It didn’t look good, with him hobbling to the sidelines, but he fought through it and hit a crucial jumper. With being at half strength, he still did a great job defensively and helped elevate Kentucky’s pressure in the half court.

Daniels had a nice but brief stint in the first half. He had a massive dunk and a step back jumper, but had his second foul with almost five and a half minutes to go in the first half. When he finally got back into the game, his jumpers were all off and other than a lay-up and a put-back, he never got it going. Despite all that, he did all the little things like boxing out and battling for rebounds, especially when Ollie went small. If it wasn’t for his contributions in the paint in this game, this would be a ten point Kentucky win.

Giffey had an early lay-up, had an offensive rebound, and went two for two from the line. He finally got two 3-pointers to drop for him and was the spark UConn needed in the second half to help elevate the zone pressure Kentucky applied. Kromah hit a jumper but also had a horrible turnover that led to a 3-pointer on the other end. He had a key jump-ball and hit two crucial free throws late in the ball game to help UConn stretch the lead three possessions. Samuels came out and provided an immediate lift with a steal and a lay-up, but then went under a screen that led to points and also had a turnover. This unit was key to the victory and without them, it wouldn’t have been close.

Brimah started out strong with a block and rebounded with strength, but struggled to defend without fouling. Nolan had an early offensive rebound and a block, but also had trouble containing Kentucky. They couldn’t get anything to drop around the rim and had trouble with Kentucky’s length. With both of them getting into major foul trouble, Ollie had to sit them both and go small.

It is hard to put into words what this team just accomplished. Sure they did this before in 2011, but this was something totally different. That team won its Maui Tournament, Big East Tournament, and headed into the NCAA Tournament with a head of steam. This team lost to Louisville three times, with one of those by an embarrassing margin. No one gave them a shot, not even 99% of UConn fans, but this team did what makes this sport so special, they became one. Everyone stepped up collectively and fulfilled their roles which was beautiful to watch. UConn nation should be proud of this team and what it has not only accomplished on the court, but what it has done to stabilize itself for the foreseeable future. There has been many a great franchise to have had their culture of winning wane and never be seen again, but this team stuck through that ban and are now College Basketball royalty. You could use many words to describe this team. Heart, toughness, together, but the one word that truly describes this team is loyal and for that every UConn fan has to say Thank You.


Matias Nino said...

A journey for the ages! All beginning the season before when Kevin Ollie wrote on his team whiteboard: "OUR GOAL IS US". Someone better be making a documentary on this!

Thank you Dave for the dedication and insight you brought into narrating game-by-game how this beloved team evolved and grew through all the highs and lows the last 2 years. No matter who they played, each and every one of the last 70 games was dramatic, fun to watch and ready about, and told a part of the story.

For now I'm going to enjoy the shining moment. But, quite honestly, I'm already thrilled for next year's team and would love to hear your thoughts on it. :) Thanks again!

David Gillett said...

Thanks for the kind words and for taking the time to read my blog. It really was a special season and one for the ages. These moments are the reason why sports fans stick through all the tough years and it was amazing to see this team come together and play as a cohesive unit. Like you, I am already excited for next year.