***Post-Game Report with reaction from UK locker room - CLICK HERE***
***Will UK still appreciate the run? Reaction to Chapman/Cal/Lakers - CLICK HERE***
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — This time, the magic ran out. Trailing by six points, the Wildcats came down the court and got two three pointers, one by Aaron Harrison, one by his brother Andrew, neither went down, and Connecticut grabbed the rebound to run out the clock on a 60-54 NCAA championship.
It was an improbable run. UConn lost to Louisville by 33 points in its final regular-season game. It lost by double-digits in the American Athletic Conference title game. But Kevin Ollie, in his second year at UConn, and the first year of eligibility for the NCAA Tournament won the title game.
But UConn had a senior point guard, Shabazz Napier, who was only a freshman when the Huskies knocked UK from the Final Four in 2011. Last night, he scored 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting. He also dished out three assists and had six rebounds. Ryan Boatright added 14 for UConn, and Niles Giffey added 10 points, including a pair of huge second-half three pointers.
UConn threatened twice to put UK away earlier, but the Wildcats wouldn't go.
"I'm proud of our guys," Calipari said. "We had our chances. It was stuck on a one-point game. But I needed to do a couple more things for us. . . . We had our chances. That's all I asked for these guys. As a coach, it's your job to give them something extra, get them over the top. And we couldn't give them that."
The Wildcats saw their largest deficit of the season in the first half. UConn's quickness caused UK all kinds of trouble early, and Napier and Boatwright had outscored the Wildcats all by themselves in the early going.
After a pair of free-throws by Niles Giffey, UConn led 30-15 with just 5:59 left in the first half.
Then Calipari made an adjustment. He had his team switch to a 2-3 zone, and soon after UConn lost big man DeAndre Daniels and guard Ryan Boatright to their second fouls of the half, and UK began to make a move.
The Wildcats got three-pointers from Andrew Harrison and James Young, and Julius Randle scored his first four points of the half in the final minutes, and the Wildcats trailed by only four at the break.
In the locker room, Calipari was upbeat. He told his team, "We're going to win this." He said Randle and Young and others "forgot what we do," after being rattled by the magnitude of the game.
The second half opened ragged. UK climbed to within a point, only to have UConn run back out to a nine-point lead with 11:01 left.
And the Wildcats came again, a massive James Young slam igniting a run that brought UK within a point at 48-47 with 8:13 left.
Again, Connecticut answered. The built a six-point lead, and had a chance to add to it, but DeAndre Daniels missed a wide open three-pointer with 1:22 left, and the Wildcats still had a chance.
James Young drove for a layup with 1:08 left.
Up four, Connecticut brought the ball up and UK fouled on purpose — not sending UConn to the line, so he could call timeout for its biggest defensive stand of the year.
Connecticut ran down the clock, and found Lasan Kromah wide open under the basket, and his two free throws made it 60-54 with 20.1 seconds left.
The Wildcats' Harrison twins then missed a pair of three-pointers, Connecticut grabbed the rebound and UK did not foul.
It was the third straight season that the youngest team in the NCAA Tournament field had advanced to the title game, but UK's 2012 team remains the only one to win it.
UK got 20 points from James Young and 10 from Julius Randle. But no other Wildcat player scored in double figures. UK was outreboudned 34-33 and had only seven second-chance points. The game's key stat: UK went only 13 of 24 from the free-throw line. UConn was 10 of 10.
The loss ended a marvelous postseason run for the Wildcats. It did not end where the Wildcats wanted it to, but it ended a good deal farther than most envisioned.