In what is the most unlikely NCAA championship final in history, 2 teams that have overcome tremendous odds will face off in Texas on Monday night. It is certain to be an entertaining and competitive game. Kentucky began the season as the Number 1 team in the country and suffered some growing pains early on. Somewhere in January the team started to mold into the group that Coach Calipari knew he had. He had convinced a starting 5 consisting of all freshman to play for the good of the team and it has shown in their play. After receiving and 8 seed they struggled in a low scoring win vs. Kansas State in the first round. They then showed tremendous poise in their upset of Number 1 seed Wichita State. They followed that up by defeating the defending national champs in 4 seeded Louisville and last season Runner up in Michigan. On Friday night they ran into a tough defensive minded Wisconsin team that exposed some of the Wildcats inexperience early, however the road they traveled and the lessons they learned over the course of the season showed as they stayed together and thanks to yet another incredible team performance. Down by 2 with only seconds remaining Andrew Harrison passed the ball to his brother Aaron and yelled at him to shoot it, his brother happily obliged and drilled a long 3 pointer over the long arm of a Wisconsin defender. It was virtually the same shot he had made a week earlier in the elite 8 win over Michigan. The shot send himself into NCAA tourny legend status and took his team into the championship game.
Florida came into the tournament as the number 1 overall seed and having not lost a game since December. UConn played stronger as the year went on but after receiving 7 seed they needed some questionable calls to advance past Saint Josephs in overtime of their 2nd round matchup. Perhaps that was the push they needed because their next 3 wins vs. 2 seed Villanova, 3 seed Iowa State, and 4 seed Michigan State (whom all 4 ESPN prognosticators had picked to win the tournament ), were games that UConn had in hand down the stretch and were not even as close as the scores indicated. Most people assumed that if they were going to beat Florida they would have to grind it out, however they shocked many by going up 10 points early in the second half and keeping the Gators at bay for the remainder of the game. UConn's biggest flaw had been that they were considered a one man band in Shabazz Napier and for the second time in this tournament DeAndre Daniels showed that to be far from the truth with a dominating 20 point and 10 rebound performance.
UConn is a team built on defense.They do not use many gimmicks or presses but they do work together as a unit and make teams work for their shots. They held Florida to 19-49 from the field, Michigan State was 18-46, and Villanova was 18-51. Kentucky will want to look at tape of the Iowa State game because they are the only team in the tournament that has been able perform efficiently on offense (32-69). They do a great job of stopping opposing guards.
Kentucky has a major advantage in Julius Randle. He has a unique skill set for a big man and has dominated all tournament long. UConn does not have anyone capable of matching up with him. If they can get the ball to him in good position early and often they will be in good shape. Having to defend veterans Napier and Ryan Boatright will be the toughest challenge the Kentucky guards have had all season and their ability to slow Napier may very well be the deciding factor.
This has the potential to be one of the best championship games ever. Both teams have tremendous coaching and compete at an elite level. Hopefully we get a clean game that is close down the stretch.
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