Connecticut’s 60-54 win in last night’s NCAA Tournament final accomplished two things. First, it gave the Huskies their fourth national championship since 1999. That’s two more titles than Duke, Florida and North Carolina won over that stretch and three more than champs Michigan State, Maryland, Syracuse, Kentucky and Louisville. If there’s a dominant program in the land right now, it’s Connecticut.
Second, the UConn win blocked John Calipari’s trip to the winners’ circle. Kentucky won the national crown in 2012 and was aiming for its second title in three years. Instead, Wildcat fans will have to “settle” for this remarkable run of success for Coach Cal and his youth-driven program: one national championship, one NCAA tourney runner-up, one Final Four loss, one Elite Eight loss and one NIT trip. That’s one championship banner, three Final Fours, and four Elite Eights in five years. If there’s a UK fan out there who feels the need to complain about the Cats’ coach, he’s probably sipped a tad too much Kentucky bourbon.
Live by the guards, die by the guards
Over the course of UK’s last nine games, Aaron and Andrew Harrison elevated their play. No wonder then that a UK squad that went 22-9 (.709 winning percentage) in the regular season went 7-2 (.777) in tournament play. The Wildcats’ only two losses were to Florida (who reached the Final Four) in the SEC Tournament finals and to UConn in last night’s tourney finals.
On Monday night, the 6-6 Harrison twins were outplayed by their small UConn counterparts, Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier. Kentucky’s guards scored 15 points on six-of-15 shooting, put up five assists and turned the ball over seven times.
Boatright and Napier, on the other hand, combined for 36 points on 13-of-22 shooting with six assists and seven turnovers. Boatright is a 6-0. Napier is a 6-1. In last night’s game, speed and quickness got the better of the size and strength.
Calipari downplays rumored tie to the Los Angeles Lakers
Former Kentucky star Rex Chapman didn’t make any new friends in the Bluegrass State last night. A little less two hours before game time, Chapman tweeted about a rumor he’d heard — one would think — in NBA circles:
After getting e-flogged on Twitter, Chapman returned to say: “I don’t live in some dream world & have alwys called it straight.” He also posted this zinger: “Let’s not 4get, 6-wks ago many in BBN would’ve walked Cal 2 LA.” True, plenty in the Big Blue Nation were calling for Calipari’s head as his teams slogged its way through a regular season that didn’t live up to preseason hype.
After the game, Calipari said that his team was unaware of the tweet before the game, so no one can blame Chapman for Monday’s loss. It was still clear the coach wasn’t happy with the rumor being passed around when he said: “The Lakers have a coach. Kentucky has a basketball coach. I got the best job in the country. I’m not going to even dignify that stuff.” That’s two statements of fact, one opinion, and a non-denial denial. (Just found a Dan Wetzel piece that shows that writer viewed Calipari’s statement in almost the exact same way we did.)
UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart never gave a specific “He’ll be back” after the game, either. According to SI.com, Barnhart said:
“Cal’s been great, he’s been a great ambassador for this program and he cares a lot about Kentucky. So clearly we love how he represents what we do. He looks great in blue. You live day to day with people and you trust what they do. For five years now, I think I know him fairly well. If there was anything I need to concerned with, he and I have had conversations, and in those conversations he’s been very, very focused on this tournament. His total focus this season, especially this last month and a half, have been to get the team to a spot where we could compete for something like this. I think he’s done a marvelous job doing that.”
He has. But that, too, is a non-denial denial.
Do we believe Calipari will head to the Lakers or another NBA team this offseason? No. But that doesn’t mean it’s not the perfect time for UK’s coach to play a little footsie with some pro franchise in order to remind Kentucky fans to appreciate what he and his teams are achieving.