ARLINGTON, Texas (MCT) – Among Kevin Ollie's many notable phrases is "believing in the dark." He expects his UConn players to believe, even when they can't see.
When took them to the site of the Final Four in January, he expected them to believe. When grabbed the mic at Gampel Pavilion and told the 10,000 fans he planned to come back in April and hang a banner, he expected them to believe.
On Monday, the Huskies completed an improbable run through the NCAA Tournament as a No. 7 seed and finally cashed the very big check Kevin Ollie wrote for them. They finished it with a 60-54 victory over Kentucky in the national championship game before 79,238 at AT&T Stadium.
Make room for another banner at Gampel. Ollie will be hanging the fourth championship banner in school history, his first, in only 19 months after replacing Jim Calhoun.
Shabazz Napier scored 22 points, Ryan Boatright 14 and Niels Giffey 10 as UConn sent the Wildcats five freshmen, one of the highest rated recruiting class, home, and probably to the NBA, empty handed. Kentucky (29-11) was the top-ranked team in the preseason, but did not begin playing like it until making its own crazy tournament run.
The Huskies (32-8) opened up an early 15-point lead, and spent the rest of the game to hanging on to it with all the tenacity they could muster up. The Wildcats cut it down to four at the half, and down to one early in the second half.
UConn put together a 7-0 run to stretch it back out to nine points with 11:39 to play, but again the Wildcats surged back quickly. By this time, they had gotten UConn's big men, including DeAndre Daniels in foul trouble. But Kentucky was missing half its free throws, and the Huskies continued to cling to a slim lead.
Napier hit a three-pointer, a tough, contested shot at the end of the clock, to put UConn ahead by four, and Niels Giffey hit another on the next possession to make it 54-49. DeAndre Daniels scored off a lob pass from Ryan Boatright to make 58-52 game, and the Huskies had a chance to finally lock it down. James Young scored 20 points for the 'Cats.