ARLINGTON, Texas – James Young and Julius Randle entered the Kentucky locker room together after their news conference with the media. The Wildcats had just lost the national championship game to Connecticut 60-54.
Randle tossed his empty water bottle to the ground and made a beeline toward the shower area. Young found an open seat toward the back of the Kentucky locker room and sat down, immediately swarmed by media members.
Young had tears in his eyes. As he spoke, he took his jersey and wiped one of his eyes, trying to stay composed.Speaking softly, Young gave praise to Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, UConn’s guard tandem that consistently harassed Kentucky’s set of guards, freshman twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison.
Young said that Napier and Boatright were the quickest guards Kentucky had seen all season long.
“They were the best guards, definitely, that we played against,” Young said. “Shabazz and Boatright did a good job of just running their team and getting big shots for them.”
Napier and Boatright anchored a defense that held Kentucky to its lowest point total for the season. They also forced the Harrisons into a combined seven turnovers.
Aaron Harrison said he felt he and his teammates were a bit nervous starting the game, which helped UConn build a 30-15 lead in the first half.
“We just didn’t come out with enough energy out there,” Aaron said. “I guess we were a little bit nervous. They are a good team. They have good guards and they are just a better team.”
Kentucky shot 39.1 percent from the field, but that number dips to 33.3 percent when discussing the second half. Napier and Boatright limited the Harrisons to 15 combined points. Aaron Harrison made three of seven shots, including just one of five from behind the three-point line. Andrew Harrison made three of nine shots. Kentucky committed a total of 13 turnovers, which led to 17 UConn points.
Napier and Boatright combined for 36 points on 13-for-22 shooting from the field. Napier had a game-high 22 points.
With his team barely holding on to a one-point lead with 6:47 to play, Napier connected on a 3-pointer with the shot-clock running down to extend UConn’s lead to 51-47. Kentucky never led at any point in the contest.
Aaron Harrison said the quickness of Napier and Boatright made them difficult to defend.
“We didn’t handle the pressure early,” Aaron Harrison said. “They’re just really quick. It’s really hard to stay in front of small guards. They’re just great players.”
In the Kentucky locker room after the game, the Harrisons sat in front of adjacent dressing stalls in a corner, answering separate questions. Andrew sat with his head hung low, speaking in a soft mumble. To his right was Aaron, standing up without his shoes on, talking more loudly.
He said the distance between the court and his team’s locker room was almost reflective, of what could have been.
“It’s a long walk,” Aaron said. “You just get the feeling that that could’ve been you. You want to start over, but you don’t get start-overs in life and you don’t get second chances.”