The Huskies continue to fight. This time it wasn't Kemba Walker who made the big shots, it was freshman Shabazz Napier. Only a few plays after turning the ball over to let Kentucky back in the game, Shabazz got the rebound off a DeAndre Liggins missed three and was fouled with 2 seconds left. Up 2 points, all he had to do was hit both free throws of a one-and-one and UConn would advance. He did just that, and though Brandon Knight hit a three at the buzzer, the Connecticut Huskies beat the Kentucky Wildcats 56-55 to move on to the title game.
Though Kemba didn't play his best game, a reasonably efficient 18 points (on 15 shots), 6 rebounds and 7 assists was enough to push UConn over the top. He did his best work on defense, where he and Napier held UK's freshman Knight to a completely miserable 6-24 shooting night for 17 of the worst points you'll ever see. He got tired, he lost his legs, and demonstrated poor shot selection all night long that completely derailed the efforts of fellow freshmen Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, who both played much better games.
Jones should have gotten the opportunity to make more plays, demonstrating his X-factorness in 11 points on 8 shots and 16 rebounds. His biggest shortcoming was an embarrassing 0-6 night at the foul line, which adds to the mythology from the Kansas/Memphis Mario Chalmers championship game that John Calipari does not care about free throws. Normally reliable upperclassmen Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins each shot 1-7 on the night, contributing to the 33% field goal percentage which will not cut it on a stage like this. They're a better basketball team than UConn, but when they don't shoot well and their coach doesn't scheme the right plays, the Wildcats can look downright awful.
Alex Oriakhi played a huge role tonight for Jim Calhoun, who looks to win his third NCAA championship for UConn. Oriakhi and fellow big man Charles Okwandu completely outclassed Josh Harrelson and Eloy Vargas, who were basically non-factors all game long. They'll face a different kind of test in Matt Howard and Andrew Smith on Monday. Roscoe Smith and Jeremy Lamb also played well on both ends of the court and were mainly responsible for the poor shot selection of Kentucky's wings.
It's been a long time coming for the Wildcats, after almost losing to Princeton in the first round and squeaking by Ohio State in the Sweet Sixteen. Even tonight they were down 10 at the half but came back strong in the early second to take the lead and battle the rest of the game. But they put a really nice tournament run together and it's up in the air as to which of their freshmen decide to hang around for another season under Calipari, especially with 5-star freshmen like Marquis Teague, Anthony Davis, and Michael Gilchrist coming in for next year.
It's all smiles for Kemba and the Huskies though, as they'll move on to the final college game for the next 7 months against Butler on Monday. We'll be previewing that game extensively over the next two days but for now it's time to celebrate the last two teams in the nation vying for a national title: Connecticut and Butler.