basketball-men-d1 flag | April 7, 2014

Why They'll Win: Kentucky vs. UConn

The clutch gene. You either have it or you don’t.

So many people clad in red and white dismissed Kentucky before the second semifinal on Saturday night against Wisconsin.

They had caught too many breaks on the road to North Texas.

They hit every clutch shot imaginable.

There’s no way these freshmen could continue doing this.


Aaron Harrison sent those fans back to Madison with feet in their mouths. When your clutch, you’re clutch. Aaron Harrison? He’s clutch. Go ask Louisville and Michigan, who he beat with eerily similar 3-pointers in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight last weekend.

"Aaron hit another big shot for us,” fellow freshman James Young said. “He saw his man play off him a little bit, and he just took it. He's been taking all our big shots for us.”

Kentucky doesn’t call it luck. It’s hard to really describe what it really is. After not attempting a tying or go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute all year, Aaron Harrison is 3-for-3 in his last three games, with the last two coming from almost the exact same spot on the floor – closer to the first row of media than the three-point line.

Head coach John Calipari trusts his super freshmen. Did you notice how he didn’t call timeout after Wisconsin hit two free-throws with 16 seconds left? Down two, with the ball, Coach Cal let his guys win the game.

“You know I never call a timeout there,” Calipari said. “I want the kids to win the game. I don't need to be a hero.”

Seven get meaningful minutes and five start. They make a ton of mistakes – they are the first ones to admit that. Every time you think the young Cats are on their way to a big lead, it disappears. And every time you think their run is over, they play like the best group to ever step foot on a basketball court.

But these guys aren’t really freshmen anymore. Not after 39 games.

Calipari is now 18-2 in the NCAA tournament as the head coach at Kentucky and he hasn’t lost in this tournament since the 2011 Final Four when UConn went on to win the title.

Maybe UConn coach Kevin Ollie can call Robert Morris for some tips on how to beat UK in the postseason. The Colonials are the only team to do it in the past three years in last season’s first round of the NIT.

Back to this version of the Wildcats being clutch for a second. Kentucky hasn’t led at halftime of the past four games, yet they are in the national championship game. Kansas is the last team to do that, in 2012.

Even more clutch? Kentucky is the first team to win four consecutive NCAA tournament games in the same year by five points or less.

Kentucky has showed us that they don’t care what the situation is; they’ll find a way to win. And in March – or April – that’s all that matters.

-- Douglas Kroll,


  Kentucky is on a magic carpet ride. Aaron Harrison is a miracle worker. But Connecticut can still beat the Wildcats Monday night, even if the world is full of last-minute victims who can attest how hard that has been to do.

Connecticut can win because of chemistry. Any team with players who would run through walls for one another is dangerous.

“It comes with a lot of understanding of who you are as a person, and who the player is beside you,” Shabazz Napier said Sunday. “We honestly believe we are brothers. We honestly don’t think we all have different mothers and fathers.”

Connecticut can win because of toughness. Nobody on the Huskies has a free ride, from the coach to the star to the cast.

“A lot of our guys, we come from inner cities. We didn’t have an easy road to get here,” Ryan Boatright said. “You’re going to have a natural pride and a natural heart to want to be successful.”

Connecticut can win because of confidence. The Huskies have been through too much – a postseason ban, outside doubt, some painful losses -- to blink now.

"We’re not going to back down from nobody,” Boatright said. “Senior, freshman, All-American, whoever you are. You’ve got to lace your shoes up and you’ve got to put the jersey on exactly how we’ve got to do it.”

Connecticut can win because of defense. The Florida guards were expecting to be able to penetrate and score -– like they have done against three dozen other defenses -– and instead ran into a barbed wire fence. Harrison has become a folk hero in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, but he has never stared down the business end of a Boatright or Napier.

So what if they’ll both be giving up five or six inches to the 6-6 Harrisons?

"I’ve been playing basketball my whole life,” said the 6-0 Boatright. “I’ve never been the biggest guy on the floor.”

Connecticut can win because of history. This is the fourth national championship game for the Huskies. They won the other three.

Connecticut can win because it beat Florida, and Kentucky never could.

Connecticut can win because Kentucky has to run out of magic sooner or later. Harrison is going to miss a big shot in the final seconds one of these days, right? Right?

Connecticut can win because Napier is not going to be distracted by any Twitter business. He is one of the few remaining college students in the galaxy who doesn’t use it, for two reasons.

"I don’t know how to work Twitter, to be honest,” he said. But also, he was wary of what he might say to a knucklehead critic. “I don’t want to be in the position where I say something back, and I’m wrong for it. I’ve got to be the bigger person.

The gods of March must love those words, from a guy leading a team that keeps beating teams it is not supposed to. Connecticut can win.

-- Mike Lopresti,




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