The Art of Sports: Crowning Connecticut
By Mark Lewis
Is it a story of redemption? Hardly.
The University of Connecticut’s men’s basketball team grabbed the NCAA championship with a hard-earned, if often ugly, 60-54 victory over Kentucky Monday night.
This marks the Huskies’ fourth title since 1999. And as we heard many times over the last three weeks, Connecticut didn’t even make the 68-team field a year ago.
But rarely did commentators add this: The team was suspended by the NCAA last season for several years of poor Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores. The Huskies, it seems, hit the boards a lot harder than the books.
The current players had little to do with the problem but felt the sting of the one-year ban. This season, they used it as a motivational tool.
Star guard Shabazz Napier made sure we all knew during the post-game celebration.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you’re looking at the hungry Huskies,” he said. “This is what happens when you ban us.”
Motivation is a funny thing. Are we saying Kentucky, with its five freshman starters primed to head to the NBA next year, did not feel the need to win? More likely the lucky horseshoes, in plentiful supply in Lexington, were dislodged from the Wildcats’ rears after four stirring last-second victories.
Kentucky coach John Calipari embraces the current college basketball rules: Players need only go to school for one year before plying their profession. It’s the rule and one that Calipari follows. Most refer to the situation as “one-and-done.” The Kentucky coach prefers “succeed and proceed.”
Connecticut relied on physical ball pressure to disrupt Kentucky’s offense. Napier and Ryan Boatright supplied timely shooting while combining for 36 points. And second-year coach Kevin Ollie often looks like a crazed puppet-master on the sideline, orchestrating his defenders.
Yes, Connecticut believed it could win. So did Kentucky. The Huskies just played a little better.