Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
Time for a fresh start at UConn, Kentucky
It was an unlikely NCAA Championship game.
First, it was a No. 7 seed against a No. 8 seed and the No. 8 seed was favored. The NCAA selection committee should be embarrassed by this whole tournament.
Second, neither UConn nor Kentucky was even in the Big Dance last year.
The Huskies were banned because of a low Academic Progress Rate, which led Shabazz Napier, this year’s MVP who led UConn to the championship, to lash out at the NCAA during his one shining moment.
As for Kentucky, it is sad but true that the runners-up are soon forgotten, and this will become just another group of wildly talented McDonald’s All-Americans who didn’t get it done.
Hours before the game NCAA President Mark Emmert and Kentucky Coach John Calapari criticized the NBA’s policy of taking players after one year of college.
Yes, Calipari, the mastermind behind Kentucky’s one and-done approach, said he thought players should have to stay two years, and he even said it with a straight face. But the truth is, if this group of freshmen at Kentucky had to come back, they still might run the table next season, provided Calipari could find a way to get the team chemistry right. Even more true is that not all of them are ready for the NBA.
UConn’s Kevin Ollie, who became just the sixth coach since 1990 to win the championship in his first Final Four appearance (37 others have come up short), did a masterful job of keeping his team focused against a bigger, more talented Wildcats team.
When Kentucky cut a first-half deficit from 15 to four going into intermission, it looked like Kentucky might once again do what it had to do when it surged out of the toughest regional.
Yet, this UConn team proved to be tougher and more resilient than any opponent the Wildcats had faced, and it appeared down the stretch Kentucky had a mild case of the freshman jitters.
The Wildcats missed three consecutive free throws late in the game, including the front end of a one-and-one. For the game they missed 11 free throws as they went 13 of 24 in their 60-54 loss.
UConn was 10 of 10 from the line.
What the Huskies did best was deny Julius Randle shots. Randle, who is considered a lottery pick in the NBA draft, took 7 shots and made only 3 as he finished with 10 points and 6 rebounds.
It came down to a fight between the starting five of both teams. Four of Kentucky’s starters played at least 34 minutes, while three of UConn’s starters topped the 30-minute mark and a fourth played 29 minutes.
In the end the Wildcats couldn’t handle the Huskies’ back court of Napier (22 points) and Ryan Boatright (14 points), who missed only one shot. Both had three steals and three assists.
Kentucky was led by James Young, who has played most of the season in the shadow of Randle and twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison. Young had 20 points and seven rebounds to lead the Wildcats.
UConn won the NCAA title in 2011 while it was on NCAA probation for a recruiting scandal.
Kentucky won it in 2012, which at the time validated its one-and-done approach. But as Emmert and Calipari said, the problem is with the NBA, which decides when a player is eligible to turn professional.
More than likely the Wildcats will be depleted again as their freshmen become instant millionaires.
UConn, like so many other teams, will start building for the future. It will do it one recruiting class at a time, not with just one recruiting class.
Sports, Pages 19 on 04/09/2014