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This is Connecticut’s strength. Shabazz Napier has been one of the best players in the tournament, but Ryan Boatright’s work on both ends of the floor against Florida was the key to the Huskies’ semifinal victory. But the elevated play of Kentucky’s backcourt in the postseason is why the Wildcats are playing in the championship. Who has had better moments in the tournament than Mr. Big Shot, Aaron Harrison?
The Wildcats overwhelm opponents with size and athleticism. Julius Randle goes strong to the basket, and Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress are around to clean up misses. Conneticut’s DeAndre Daniels has raised his game in the tournament and recorded a double-double (20 points, 10 rebounds) against Florida. The Huskies’ other inside threat, Niels Giffey, like Daniels, can step outside and knock down a three.
UConn’s biggest threat off the bench is Amida Brimah, a 7-footer who is averaging 3.4 points and might be needed to log more than his 16-minute average to confront the Kentucky bigs. Kentucky’s top reserve, Willie Cauley-Stein, has been ruled out of the game, but skyscrapers Poythress and Lee come off the bench and Kentucky doesn’t lose much.
This is the first national championship game appearance for Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie; the third for Kentucky’s John Calipari, his second in Lexington. Two Huskies — Napier and Giffey — played against the Wildcats in the 2011 national semifinal won by Connecticut on its way to a national title.
By seeding and AP ranking, this is the worst opponent for Kentucky in five NCAA Tournament games. But it’s also the most dangerous. While the Wildcats have wowed with their victory process — making all the right moves down the stretch of close games — the Huskies have powered past some of the game’s best, like Iowa State, Michigan State and, most impressively, Florida. Remember, the Gators beat Kentucky three times this season. Still, the Wildcats have the feel of a charmed team. Call it Kentucky, 68-64.