9:10 PM ET, April 7, 2014
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Connecticut and Kentucky couldn't have met in last year's championship game and few people gave them a chance to be in this year's.Seventh-seeded Connecticut and eighth-seeded Kentucky meet Monday night in one of the unlikeliest NCAA championship games ever.Neither was around in last year's NCAA tourney -- Connecticut because of a tournament ban over academic issues; Kentucky because it didn't make the field. And neither looked like national title contenders at times this season.Kentucky (29-10) and its outstanding freshmen went from preseason No. 1 to out of the rankings after some bad losses. And Connecticut (31-8) was not a popular postseason pick after finishing tied for third in the American Athletic Conference with multiple losses to Louisville and SMU.In the tournament, the Huskies have stopped some of the country's top guards and put themselves in position for their fourth national championship, the previous three under Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun."Hopefully we have an opportunity to fall back on our defense," second-year coach Kevin Ollie said. "We have been doing that the whole year."If Kentucky has a chance to win in the final minute, that defense better pay attention to guard Aaron Harrison, one of five freshmen starters.He has hit huge 3-pointers in the Wildcats' last three games. Harrison rattled in a 26-footer with 5.7 seconds to go in the 74-73 win over Wisconsin in the semifinals. He made almost the exact same shot with 2.3 seconds left against Michigan for a 75-72 win that sent the Wildcats to the Final Four. Against Louisville, he hit a 3 with 39 seconds left to give Kentucky the lead for good in a 74-69."The biggest thing is he's not afraid to miss," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "He's OK with it. He's comfortable in his own skin. ... If you're going to make those kind of shots, you absolutely cannot be afraid to miss them."These two programs have combined to win six of the last 18 NCAA titles."Playing against Connecticut, I mean, I'm just happy we're still playing," Calipari said.Neither program could say that last year.Connecticut was banned from the postseason after failing to meet NCAA academic standard. It had practice limitations and lost a scholarship. The players could have transferred but didn't. The Huskies finished 20-10 in Ollie's first year. They took the hit and made it back to the biggest stage."It's actually very impressive," NCAA president Mark Emmert said Sunday. "To see that team hold together. I think it's a commitment to those young men on that team that hung together."The leader of the group is All-American Shabazz Napier who leads the team in almost every statistical category. He's the guy who makes the big shot or big pass. Fellow guard Ryan Boatright has taken some of the spotlight recently for his defensive performances against the likes of Keith Appling of Michigan State and Scottie Wilbekin of Florida."Defense is the biggest thing for me. The points will come," Boatright said. "I want to make him uncomfortable, don't let him get in a rhythm or flow. Their guards, God blessed them with height and they will try to take advantage of smaller guys like us but I've been the smaller guy my whole life and I've never backed down."Kentucky is playing its best basketball lately, led by big man Julius Randle and the Harrison twins."We just had too much talent and we saw in spurts how good we could be," Randle said, "so it just felt like it was a matter of time before it clicked."This is Calipari's fourth Final Four, but the first two -- Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008 -- were vacated over NCAA rules violations.Now the Wildcats are on an 11-game winning streak in the NCAA tournament and they are one win from a ninth national championship for Kentucky."We all play the game of basketball to compete against the best," Napier said. "This is one of them games. ... They worked hard to get to this point and we did too. We're going to do our best to get this `W."
NCAA Mens Tournament
|Avg Points Allowed||66.6||63.1|
|» Apr 7, 2014||@UCONN 60, UK 54||Recap|
Despite being voted preseason #1, Kentucky was unranked in the AP poll going into the tournament, and is the 9th unranked team to make the championship game since the AP poll began in the 1948-49 season. If they beat Connecticut in the title game, the Wildcats will join 1988 Kansas, 1985 Villanova, and 1950 CCNY as the only teams that won the title despite being unranked in the poll prior to the tournament.[+]
Teams Unranked in AP Poll to Play in NCAA Championship Game - Since AP Poll Began in 1948-49
Kentucky looks to become the 4th team (and 1st since 1988) to win the national championship despite being unranked in the final AP Poll before the NCAA Tournament. NOTE: Poll had 20 teams from 1948-49 to 1959-60 and 1968-69 to 1988-89; 10 teams from 1960-61 to 1967-68; and 25 teams from 1989-90 to present[+]
Unranked in Final AP Poll - National Champions in AP Poll History
Since the AP Poll expanded to 25 teams for the 1989-90 season, no team has won a national championship after being ranked outside the Top 15 in the final poll released before the NCAA Tournament. Connecticut was No. 18 and Kentucky was UNRANKED in the final AP Poll this season.[+]
Lowest Rank in Final AP Poll - Eventual National Champions Since 1990
UConn wins its 4th national title since 1999. Only the Lakers have won more titles in that span among the 4 major sports and college football and basketball. The rest of the list is a group of sports heavyweights.[+]
Most Championships Since 1999 - 4 Major Sports & College Football/Basketball
Connecticut is the only school to win four national titles without a title game loss.[+]
Most National Championship Games Without a Loss
UConn has twice as many national championships as any other team since winning its first in 1999. They also have the most titles without a loss in NCAA Tournament history.[+]
Most National Championships Since 1999
UConn is the first team to beat Kentucky twice in the Final Four (also beat Kentucky in 2011 National Semifinals).
Connecticut is the first team to win the National Championship after missing the previous NCAA Tournament since ... Connecticut in 2011.[+]
Won National Championship After Missing Previous Year's Tournament - Since Field Expanded in 1985
Connecticut is the first team to beat the AP Preseason No. 1 in the national championship game to win the national title since Duke beat Arizona in 2001.
Kentucky found its game towards the end of the first half against UConn, finishing on a 16-5 run.[+]
Kentucky - First Half vs Connecticut
Kentucky is the sixth school to lose four National Championship games.[+]
Most Losses in National Championship
Connecticut is the only school in the shot-clock era (since 1986) to win a title game by 60 points or fewer and the Huskies have done so twice.[+]
Fewest Points in National Title Win - Shot Clock Era (Since 1986)
Connecticut has the highest win percentage in the tournament since their first title run in 1999.[+]
Highest Win Pct in NCAA Tournament Since 1999
In the 2008 title game, John Calipari's Memphis team went 12-19 from the FT line. Kansas forced OT and won there. In the 2014 title game, John Calipari's Kentucky team went 13-24 from the FT line. Connecticut won by 6.
Connecticut finished 101-115 (87.8%) on free throws, the best free throw percentage by a team in a single NCAA Tournament (min. 3 games). The previous record was 87.0% by St. John's in 1969.
Connecticut is the first team to win its first game in OT and win the title since NC State in 1983 (which actually won its first game in double OT vs Pepperdine).[+]
Won 1st Game in OT, Won National Championship Game - NCAA Tournament History
The Wildcats had their chances...[+]
Kentucky With Ball Down 1 Possession - 2nd Half Of National Championship Game
Shabazz Napier had 15 points at the half. That's a tournament-high for Napier in the first half in the NCAA Tournament. His previous high was 12 against Iowa State in the Sweet 16.
Connecticut's 33-point loss to Louisville during the regular season is the largest by an eventual national champion.[+]
Largest Loss by Eventual National Champion - NCAA Tournament History
Connecticut is first team to win the National Championship without winning its regular season or conference tournament title since Arizona in 1997.
Connecticut is the first team to make every FT attempt in a National Championship game.[+]
Highest FT pct in National Championship Game
Kentucky's freshmen combined to score 370 points in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the second-highest total for any group of first-year players.[+]
Most Points by Freshmen - Single NCAA Tournament
Connecticut is the fifth team to win four straight National Championship games.[+]
Most Consecutive Wins - National Championship Game
Kentucky's freshmen scored 50 points in the National Championship game, tied with 2003 Syracuse for the second-most all-time.[+]
Most Points by Freshmen in National Championship Game
Shabazz Napier scored more than 36 percent of Connecticut's points in the championship game.[+]
Highest Pct of Team Points - National Championship Win in Last 30 Years
Connecticut is the second team in NCAA Tournament history to win its Elite 8 game, National Semifinal game and National Championship game while holding each of those opponents below 60 points. The other was Indiana in 1981.
Connecticut is the sixth school with four National Championships.[+]
Most National Championships - Men's Division I History
Kevin Ollie is the 12th coach to win a National Championship at his alma mater.[+]
Coaches to Win National Championship At Alma Mater
Connecticut is the 2nd team to win the national championship by beating 5 teams seeded higher than it in the tournament. The other was Villanova in 1985.
ESPN Stats & Information