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Huskies, Wildcats both impressive on way to title game

Published 9:07 pm, Sunday, April 6, 2014
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UConn men in national championship games
1999
UConn 77, Duke 74
2004
UConn 82, Georgia Tech 73
2011
UConn 53, Butler 41
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- In the national championship game nobody predicted at the start of March Madness, the Kentucky Wildcats and UConn Huskies are not just happy to be at Jerry World.

Both teams want to win.

The Huskies (31-8) and the Wildcats (29-10) -- neither team even in the NCAA Tournament a year ago -- are looking to add a second championship in the last four years to their hoops history. UConn won its third in 2011 and Kentucky picked up No. 8 the next season. The Huskies are also making their fourth trip to the finals since 1999, which is the most by any school over that span.

"It means everything," Kentucky freshman Aaron Harrison said. "To be able to play for a national title is an unreal feeling."

The two teams have strung together impressive resumes to reach the championship.

Seventh-seeded UConn beat the No. 1-4 seeds in the East Region, including the Florida Gators 63-53 Saturday night in the semifinals. In four of their five wins, the Huskies had to come back from being at least nine points down and junior DeAndre Daniels has people talking NBA draft with his postseason averages of 17.6 points and 7.4 rebounds. He's been the perfect running mate to UConn's dynamic backcourt of Shabazz Napier (21 points, 4.8 assists) and Ryan Boatright (13.6 ppg)

Eighth-seeded Kentucky, which was a preseason pick to win it all by several publications, also took a No. 1 seed out as well in Wichita State along with a couple No. 2s and in-state rival Louisville on the road here. Among the heralded freshmen class are leading scorer Julius Randle (15.8 ppg, 10.6 rpg) and hot-shooting Harrison (14.4 ppg), who has been slightly more dangerous than twin brother Andrew (11.6 ppg).

The Kevin Ollie way has rubbed off on the Huskies, who don't have the glorified high school resumes of the Wildcats' fab freshmen class that is being ticketed for NBA futures.

"A lot of it has come from coach," Boatright said, about how UConn has reeled off five straight wins. "He played 13 years in the NBA and worked extremely hard for everything that he has."

Seniors Tyler Olander, Niels Giffey and Napier, who was named the Bob Cousy Award winner earlier Sunday as the nation's top point guard, all have a national championship on their lists at UConn.

"They're All-Americans and they're supposed to be future pros," Boatright said. "We don't really look into that. It's another game. ¦ They got to lace up their shoes just like we got to."

A few years ago, this Wildcats-Huskies meeting would have spun off into a John Calipari-Jim Calhoun theme, but the latter retired two years ago and let Ollie take charge.

Fifty-one wins later, the former NBA journeyman, who once played for Calipari when he was an assistant on Larry Brown's staff (1999) with the Philadelphia 76ers, is 40 minutes from accomplishing something neither "Cal" could do -- win a title in just their second season.

"We believe because nobody believed in us," UConn freshman Terrence Samuel said. "In the first game, they had us losing to Saint Joe's. We just want to prove everybody wrong and be bracket-busters."

The Wildcats and Huskies have already accomplished a lot, but now only one of them can leave Jerry World with a championship.

wpaxton@ctpost.com; http://blog.ctnews.com/uconnbasketball