A year after missing the tournament because of a poor graduation rate, Connecticut won its second N.C.A.A. men’s basketball title in four years with a 60-54 victory over Kentucky on Monday.
Though UConn never trailed, Kentucky threatened to come back a number of times. Ultimately, though, the Wildcats – who made their own improbable journey to the championship game as a No. 8 seed – couldn’t overcome shooting 13-of-24 from the foul line.
Napier, who scored 22 points on 8-of-16 field goals, made a 3-pointer with 6:50 left from the top of the key that seemed to halt Kentucky’s momentum. Then DeAndre Daniels, who struggled all game and made just 4-of-14 field goals, gave UConn a 58-52 lead with 2:45 left on a hesitation move under the basket that put the Huskies in position to close out the title.
UConn scored 30 points in first 14 minutes of game but just 11 over the next 14, starting the second half 1-for-10 from the field and giving Kentucky reason to believe it could come back one final time.
UConn built the lead back to 48-39 with 10:50 left until Kentucky scored the next eight points. But the Wildcats couldn’t get over the hump, even as fouls mounted against UConn’s frontcourt and Huskies guard Ryan Boatright dealt with a sore left ankle that he turned with nine minutes left.
The first half followed a familiar script for Kentucky, which trailed early by at least nine points for a fifth straight game in the NCAA Tournament. Only this time, UConn was able to push the lead to 30-15 after 14 minutes, the Wildcats’ largest deficit of the tournament.
But once again, Kentucky’s resilience – and UConn’s foul trouble – came to the surface before the end of the half. With Boatright and Daniels going to the bench with two fouls each and the Wildcats switching to a zone defense, the Huskies scored just five more points over the final six minutes of the half, allowing Kentucky to close within 35-31.