Back Like I Never Left

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By Stefan Anderson

The stage was set and the two teams who were set to make the final dance in this year’s NCAA Men’s National Championship. Paired up together were Kentucky and Connecticut, after all the Cinderella’s and top seeds were eliminated the two teams were set for a championship to remember. After making history, becoming the two lowest seeds to compete for the National Championship, the teams were on a path to make more than history.

The teams were both on their roads to redemption.

Along the road to the national championship, the Kentucky Wildcats have been their fair share adversity this season. After compiling the most talented roster since the Fab 5, Coach Cal and the Wildcats were on path to regain their confidence they held when they hoisted the trophy in 2012. With a #1 preseason ranking this year, Kentucky had a bulls-eye on their chest from the start. Shortly after the rankings were released Kentucky was knocked off of their high horse and were on brink of repeating the previous years success and be considered to be a failure. While the entire country was writing the Wildcats off and putting Coach Cal on the hot seat, the tam were growing through the growing pains at the right time to learn more about their team, and forming into the team they were poised to be. After defeating this year’s only undefeated in Wichita State, then beating last year’s Championship team, and finishing their run to beat a talented Wisconsin team, returning to the National Championship on a run that would complete one of the greatest runs in NCAA.

As far as UConn, their road to the big dance was similar but provided the same amount redemption. After winning the National Championship in 2011, UConn has not seen the brightest days since. Losing the infamous Coach Calhoun, facing suspension from the NCAA and leaving their home for 40 years the Big East, the Huskies have seen their fair share of challenges in the years. UConn coming off their championship in 2011, have yet reach their success they needed to in years. Reminiscent of their championship run that year, the Huskies have stepped into the roles that were lost to various reasons.  They are now led by Shabazz Napier, who was Kemba Walker’s sidekick at the time, Ryan Boatright, who is now Napier companion and Coach Kevin Ollie, who replaced his coach and mentor Coach Calhoun. The Huskies were set to complete on those magical runs as well.

From the opening tip UConn looked as if they wanted to win the championship, by showing their experience with their guard play of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Jumping out to an early 10 point lead in the first half, the Huskies put the young Kentucky team on their heels. Kentucky then responded after a barrage of 3 pointers to cut the lead down 4 at half time, led by the playmaking skills of Julius Randle.

But when the Wildcats returned from halftime they were unable to close the gap and take over the lead that UConn held. Their youth and inexperience was on full display as they were unable to break a 1 point lead after holding the Huskies on check for nearly 5 minutes in the final half, also missing 11 free throws including 8 in the 2nd half. The Wildcats finished their season similar to Fab 5 and showed that all talent cannot lead to a championship; you need some kind of experience, leadership and chemistry.  In a game where you want to get you best player involved as UConn did, Julius Randle only touched the ball 7 times in the game. Out of all the players from their team James Young was the only one to show any heart out there, especially with the ferocious slam over a few Huskies defenders.

As far the Huskies, they finished their road to by winning this year’s National Championship after their years of struggling. Kevin Ollie went on to become the first coach since Steve Fischer to win a national championship in his second season. Most Outstanding Player Shabazz Napier went on to conclude by saying “”You’re looking at the hungry Huskies. This is what happens when you ban us.”

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