April 10, 2014
“The road ends here.” That has been the slogan for the 2014 NCAA Final Four and it was certainly the slogan for Monday night’s championship contest between the seven-seed Connecticut Huskies and the eight-seed Kentucky Wildcats. It has been a long journey to this point and the Connecticut Huskies ended up being the kings of the 2014 season.
Shabazz Napier led all scorers in the first half of the game with 15 points and tacked-on 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 steals. Every other player, including the rest of the Connecticut Huskies, were rather quiet in the half. Julius Randle of Kentucky struggled with cramping throughout the first 20 minutes, leaving a lot to be desired from the Wildcat front-court. The Huskies used a combination of quick feet, fast pace, and high basketball I.Q. to keep the Wildcats out of their comfort zone.
Every time Connecticut had possession it seemed like Kentucky was simply back-peddling. The Wildcats would finally jump on the offensive and close the gap before halftime, 35-31, in favor of Connecticut. The Kentucky Wildcats started the second half the way they ended the first half, in control. Kentucky chipped away and hung with the Connecticut Huskies through the first few minutes of the second half.
Connecticut struggled to find the rhythm that they had in the opening minutes of the first half, but the struggle was enough to maintain a lead throughout the second half and secure the victory, 60-54. To finish the game, the Connecticut Huskies shot 41.5% from the field (31.6 % from three-point-range), plus 34 rebounds, 8 assists, 9 steals, and 4 blocks. The Kentucky Wildcats shot 39.1% from the floor (31.3% from beyond-the-arc), and 33 rebounds, 11 assists, 6 steals, and 5 blocks. The player of the game was Connecticut guard, Shabazz Napier who had 22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals in the game, a performance worthy of the honor.
This season has been one of ups and downs for the Connecticut Huskies, but the underdogs fought their way to the NCAA tournament and surprised everyone with a remarkable run to the 2014 NCAA championship. Coach Kevin Ollie touts his team as fighters and it could not be truer. The UConn Huskies used their grit, hustle, speed, finesse, and basketball I.Q. to out-play and out-last every team in their way during the big dance. The point is, the Connecticut Huskies EARNED this championship and played incredible team basketball while doing so.
The 2014 NCAA women’s basketball championship game featured showdown between the only two undefeated teams in the league as the Connecticut Huskies battled the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Not only were these two teams undefeated, but they have been the two more dominant programs the recent history of women’s college basketball, so one would think that this would be a tightly contested game.
Wrong. The Connecticut Huskies proved that they are the queens of college basketball and joined their male counterparts as the 2014 NCAA champions. The Connecticut Huskies got out to a fast start, just like their male counterparts, which resulted in a sizable lead throughout the majority of the first 20 minutes. However, Notre Dame was not to be counted-out and clawed back to pull within 7 points of the Huskies, 45-38. Connecticut hit 21-of-37 shots from the floor (2-for-8 from three-point-range) and had 20 rebounds, 16 assists, 1 steal, and 5 blocks by the time the first half concluded.
Notre Dame hit 15-of-35 shots (5-for-8 from beyond-the-arc) and had 18 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block in the first 20 minutes of the game. The only thing really keeping Notre Dame in the game for the first half of play was their remarkable three-point shooting. The Irish went 62.5% from behind the three-point line, while they only went 42.9% from everywhere else on the court. The second 20 minutes belonged entirely to the Huskies as Connecticut would pull-ahead big, leaving the Irish searching for answers.
Notre Dame had flashes of brilliance as they were desperate to find an answer to the offensive juggernaut that is the UConn Huskies. However, it was all for not as Connecticut would roll in the second half to a 79-58 victory over their undefeated counterparts in Notre Dame. The player of the game was Connecticut forward, Breanna Stewart who had 21 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks in the game. To end the game Connecticut shot 46.6% from the floor (21.1% from beyond-the-arc) and had 54 rebounds, 25 assists, 5 steals, and 6 blocks. Notre Dame shot 35.5% (31.6% from three-point-land) and hand 31 rebounds, 15 assists, 7 steals, and 4 blocks.
Women’s college basketball has long been disrespected as a legitimate form of sports entertainment. People assume that it is less competitive and less impressive than men’s basketball. That assumption is both bold and ignorant. These women played the game well and won my respect and admiration through their efforts as they have all season. Folks, if you aren’t willing to give women’s basketball a chance, then you are missing out because it is everything that a men’s game can be and then some. Open your mind and I promise you that you won’t be disappointed.