Former UTC coaches Mack McCarthy and the late Murray Arnold always told me, you have to have good guards to win big in college basketball. A great front court is fine, but if you have a mediocre back court, you’re likely not going to win a national championship. That was the case on Monday night as the UConn Huskies scored a 60-54 win over Kentucky to win the NCAA Championship. Now, don’t get me wrong, Kentucky has great guards, but in the championship game, the Huskies’ guards were better; especially senior Shabazz Napier. Napier who was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four, led UConn with 22 points, hauled in six rebounds and dished out three assists.
The Huskies who never trailed in the game, led by as many as 15 points in the first half but had to scratch and claw their way to a win. Kentucky should be lauded for their fight and determination because the Wildcats never gave up. In every NCAA Tournament game they played the ‘Cats either trailed at halftime or were tied.
But…this was UConn’s night. The win gave the Huskies their fourth national title since 1999, and the first for rookie head coach Kevin Ollie. It was also UConn’s second title in the last three seasons. (2011) A year ago as Hall of Fame head coach Jim Calhoun stepped down for health reasons, the Huskies missed the tournament altogether as they were banned by the NCAA for academic reasons. Five key players left for the NBA, but Shabazz Napier was one who stayed. “You’re looking at the Hungry Huskies,” Napier said after the game. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you banned us. I see my guys enjoying it. It’s the most special feeling ever.”
No matter which team won the title game, we were looking at a very unlikely champion on Tuesday morning. The Huskies were only a seventh seed, and they were facing an eighth seed in Kentucky. The Wildcats were the pre-season number one team in the country, but they struggled greatly during the season and wound up losing ten games before the loss in the finals. Coach Calipari, who has a reputation for a “one and done” recruiting class every year, said this group of kids was the easiest to coach group he’s ever had. He wants them all back at Rupp Arena next year but that’s not going to happen. Julius Randal is an NBA lottery pick while James Young and the Harrison brothers are likely first round picks. Coach ‘Cal will be forced to do what he does best and that’s reload with another great class.
UConn’s great fans have little time to enjoy this championship win, because the women’s team at 39-0 is playing Notre Dame for the NCAA Women’s Championship tonight in Nashville. Coach Geno Auriemma is looking for a ninth national title which would move him past former Lady Vols’ coach Pat Summitt who has eight.
Neither UConn nor Kentucky should be classified as a “Cinderella” team, because of both schools' great history and tradition. Huskies’ coach Kevin Ollie feels the same way. “Somebody told me we were Cinderellas, and I was like, no we’re UConn. This is what we do, we were born for this. We’re bred to cut down nets. We’re not chasing championships. Championships are chasing us.”
Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.
His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.
He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.
In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.
To contact Randy: firstname.lastname@example.org