Kentucky missed 11 of 24 free throws and lost the NCAA title to UConn Monday night.
***Post-Game Report with reaction from UK locker room - CLICK HERE***
***Will UK still appreciate the run? Reaction to Chapman/Cal/Lakers - CLICK HERE***
ARLINGTON, Texas (WDRB) – It was time for Kentucky to do what the Wildcats had already proven they could do over and over and over, against better basketball teams than the University of Connecticut.
Make a three-point shot. Grab all the difficult rebounds. Get to the foul line. Swish, swish those free throws.
Wipe away every inch of a 15-point UConn lead, just the way the Wildcats had wiped away the leads that Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin had built in UK's last four NCAA Tournament games.
Aaron Harrison, Mr. Three Shining Moments, admitted that he looked at the scoreboard and the clock and then wondered if the time was coming for him to make a fourth game-winning shot.
"Down the stretch with about four minutes to go we were down by four or something like that, (and) I was hoping it would come down to that again," Harrison said.
But it never did.
Not this time – UConn 60, Kentucky 54.
A strange ending to a strange tournament: UConn, the fifth seed in the American Athletic Conference tournament, beating a Kentucky team that had already taken out unbeaten Wichita State, defending national champion Louisville and the two best teams from the Big Ten.
A strange ending to a night that began with a strange Tweet from former Wildcat Rex Chapman insisting that win or lose, Kentucky coach John Calipari was heading to the Los Angeles Lakers after this season.
The Kentucky players and UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart insisted that Tweet did not stir any unusual conversations in the Wildcats' locker room before the game. Barnhart shrugged and said that Calipari looked great in blue and that his coach had done a marvelous job with this team.
"We were focused on the game," Andrew Harrison said.
"I don't know (Chapman) as a person," Aaron Harrison said. "It wouldn't have affected us anyway. People always have rumors about this team. People are always saying stuff. But it doesn't really affect us."
But you wonder. You'll always wonder why Rex Chapman picked about an hour before the game to Tweet something like that. Chapman has not budged from his stance, no matter what anybody said after the game -- even Calipari.
Calipari said this: "The Lakers have a basketball coach. Kentucky has a basketball coach. I got the best job in the country. I'm not going to even dignify that stuff."
"If we win a national championship we've just done all the things you said we couldn't do," said Kentucky sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein.
"Now, it's like you can't say it 100 percent because we came up short. We played right into the hands of people who were doubting us. It's just a bad feeling."
One, two, three times the Wildcats would squeeze to within one point of the unflappable Huskies – the final time (48-47) after James Young made two free throws with 8:13 to play.
But this time there would not be another shining moment. Not with the Wildcats missing free throws the way that the University of Louisville had missed free throws against Kentucky – bricking 11 of 24.
It wasn't just one guy that could not convert at the foul line. All six Kentucky players who shot free throws missed at least one. That is difficult to overcome when the other team shoots 10 and makes 10.
Not with Kentucky unable to impose its will on the glass, allowing the Huskies to outrebound the Wildcats by one.
Connecticut makes nearly all of its magic on the perimeter with Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, its dazzling guards. Somehow the Wildcats only outscored the Huskies, 24-20, in the paint. Nobody expected that.
Not with Kentucky getting only four points from the bench.
Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress and Dominique Hawkins were not able to do the things they did against Michigan and Wisconsin. This was a game when the Wildcats missed the injured Willie Cauley-Stein.
Not with Kentucky unable to find, cover or control Napier, whose 22 points certified his place as the Most Outstanding Player of this NCAA Final Four.
"We missed free throws," UK guard Andrew Harrison said. "We missed a lot of free throws. That's pretty much it, really. They're a great team with great guard play. We just didn't make enough plays down the stretch."
"Once you get down in the stretch of the game, if a team has good little guards, quick guards that could stay away from you, that could hold the ball and score at the end of the shot clock, it's tough to come back," Aaron Harrison said.
Not with Kentucky unable to do the one thing you have to do to beat Connecticut – pressure the Huskies' guards. Kentucky only turned the Huskies over 10 times. Calipari turned to a zone – a defense he hates – because the Wildcats' man-to-man pressure was ineffective.
This one hurt. You could see it in every corner of the Kentucky locker room. This one is supposed to hurt. It's the national championship game, the end of a five-month grind.
Julius Randle slumped in his locker in one corner, struggling to deliver short answers. Alex Poythress sat in his uniform, shoes and socks off, ankles still taped, talking even more softly than Randle.
The Harrison Twins looked as if they had been crying, which confirmed that they cared considerably more than many critics alleged that they cared while Kentucky lost its first 10 games this season. On a team that started five freshmen, not one of them said they had made a decision about leaving for the NBA.
Remember those shots Aaron Harrison made against Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin, the ones that got Kentucky to this moment?
"Those shots don't mean anything now," Aaron Harrison said. "That was the last game. If I could take those shots back and have somebody else hit those shots and we win this game I'd be the happiest person in the world."
That's basketball, folks.
Nobody outside Storrs had any reason to believe Connecticut (32-8) could win this national title, the school's fourth in 16 seasons.
Nobody in the state of Kentucky had any reason to believe the Huskies would survive any longer than any seven-seed is supposed to survive – the first weekend of the tournament.
Beaten by 12 points by Louisville in Storrs. Beaten by 33 by Louisville in Louisville. Beaten by 10 (after trailing by 20) by Louisville in Memphis. Beaten twice by SMU.
A five-seed in the American Athletic Conference Tournament is not supposed to win the national championship.
But it happened. A strange ending to a strange NCAA Tournament. And this April at Kentucky, there will be worries about whether Calipari will follow several of his underclassmen to the NBA.