UConn says once again, U CAN! 2014 National Champions

Call it whatever you want:

Either Kentucky alumnus Rex Chapman’s Twitter handle running amok before the title game or UConn not missing from the free throw line (a perfect 11 for 11), I felt overall it was the poise of 2014 Most Outstanding Player Shabazz Napier (say what you will about his choice of words to Jim Nantz before being named the MOP winner).  Also, the very gutsy plays early and often from Ryan Boatwright, DeAndre Daniels, and Niels Giffey (pronounced simply as, gi FYE) of Berlin, Germany (10 points, 5 rebounds) proved to be more than enough in the end.

Even Kentucky Coach John Calipari admitted to CBS Sports reporter Tracy Wolfson after the game that he did not want to foul, “because they couldn’t miss a free throw.”  Yes, UK had four time outs left in their hip pocket.  But by the time only 25.1 seconds remained, on this night in Arlington, Texas–simply put, Kentucky finally ran out of miracles.

The number Seven seed proved in the end to be very lucky indeed

During the first half, Kentucky started out a lethargic 5 for 16.  But just like they did throughout the 2014 Tournament, they clawed their way back as a team.  Johnathan Randle, remember from late on Saturday night when it appeared that he twisted his ankle in that celebratory melee following the missed jumper that would have given Wisconsin the win?  Randle seemed like a man amongst boys at times trying to exert every ounce of energy that he still had in his tank.  He finished with only 10 points, but James Young had some thunderous dunks (ala Clyde Drexler in the 1983 national semifinal for Houston over Louisville) as part of his game high 20 points.  Young was not supposed to start, but he did and simply had the game of his life.

The same could not be said in the case for Willie Cauley-Stein, who missed his third straight tournament game.  Greg Anthony called it right during the CBS broadcast.  He mentioned that his loss would prove in the end to be devastating and this group of “Kiddie ‘Cats” ran out of time to get Lexington championship banner number 9.  UK also missed 11 free throws, which really loomed large in the end.

And so, it was the Connecticut Huskies that earn title number four for Storrs–equaling the same number that Duke earned between 1991 and 2010.

UConn led only 35-31 at the break, but then the Huskies went ice cold.  They went scoreless for a 6 1/2 minute stretch until seconds before the under 12 minute TV time out.

However, Kentucky still trailed 41-37.  But even though the crowd grew briefly silent as instant replays caught Napier twisting like a salted pretzel with 9 minutes to play…

Kevin Ollie’s face at times looked similar to Apollo Creed in the earlier Rocky movies.  In the end, it was Napier’s courage to never give up and the great plays in helping his teammates that proved to be the final difference.

UConn’s 60-54 win was so decisive in its’ execution, but subtle in this simple fact:

No matter how aggressive Kentucky got in its’ approach to defending and rebounding, the Huskies were able to keep John Calipari’s heralded group of freshmen at arm’s length.  Even the rebounding numbers were almost dead even.

The 1992 Fab Five from Michigan has some company

Back in the days before social media, let alone the Internet itself–Duke completed its’ romp through the 1992 Tournament smashing Michigan’s glass slipper into shards winning by 20 points at the old Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis.

On Monday night, UConn blew leads of 15 in the first half and eight in the second half but still had enough determination and poise to bring Kevin Ollie to the promised land.

The former 11 year NBA journeyman joins Steve Fisher of Michigan from a quarter century ago (1989) as the only coaches to win their first six tournament games within their first two years of coaching during the Big Dance en route to the national championship.

And for the record, I began to tear up during the final verse to One Shining Moment.  (I bet most of the ladies when they read that statement are all saying a collective, “Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.”)

Epilogue

Before I give my final thank you’s for this very wild and crazy season, let me review how I will remember the 2013-2014 men’s college basketball season…

Kentucky may have had the hype, but John Calipari never said that this group of “Kiddie Cats” were down and out.

The media thought they were dead by Valentine’s Day.

I thought they were dead by the time Seattle scored a safety on the first play of Super Bowl XLVIII.

This year was even crazier than that…

Belmont upset North Carolina, in North Carolina.

SMU made a surprise run to the Top 25 in the polls, before becoming a victim of it.  The Mustangs missed out on being invited to the Big Dance, joining Utah State in 2004 as one of only a handful of teams that finished in the Top 25 during the final regular season poll and not claim a berth in the NCAA Tournament.  And yes, Larry Brown got to yet another championship game at MSG before falling valiantly to Richard Pitino, the younger son of the Hall of Fame Louisville coach and Minnesota for the NIT crown.

Wichita State accomplished history, and lots of it–winning every game they played reeling off a record 35 in a row before Kentucky tripped them up in their comfortable stomping grounds in St. Louis.

But no player came prepared and rewrote every script and mostly did it his way all season long…

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Image courtesy of gamedayr.com

Doug McDermott of Creighton was simply amazing.

No matter what the competition dished at him every night, he answered every challenge.  By the time his Blue Jays knew after halftime in their third round game in San Antonio that they were not going to advance to the Sweet 16, McDermott finished in the top five in terms of NCAA Division One scoring history.  That to me, is pretty sweet.

But by the time the brackets came out, everyone complained about the defending champions of Louisville being a 4.  UConn was a very modest 7, and Kentucky struggled big time–but some felt that they shouldn’t have been seeded an 8.  More like a 9 or a 10, IMHO.

The final number one seed was determined in the final post-season tournament game.  It was initially going to be Virginia, but Maryland sent them packing elsewhere.  Then, it was Michigan’s turn…but old nemesis Tom Izzo struck gold again in Nap Town.  In the end, it was Arizona–who saw their undefeated streak end at Cal-Berkeley before it all came crashing down in Anaheim to Frank Kaminsky and suddenly improving Wisconsin.

Even Syracuse flirted with perfection, not once but twice.  The regular season games of the year in Pittsburgh and against Duke proved to be instant classics.

The mid-major upset party continued in the first week with Mercer dancing their way into our hearts slaying one of the giant killers in Duke, in their home state no less.  Even Stephen F. Austin ended the dreams of another mid-major in Shaka Smart and surprise 2011 Final Four entrant of VCU.

Luke Hancock of Louisville kept up his hot shooting in the final weeks, but his teammates were barely noticed in the Sweet 16 round.  As the clock struck midnight that March Friday, the same could be said for Sparty.  Michigan State could only stand there and watch as another team partied in the Garden.

In the end, Uconn’s ability to limit teams’ fast-break opportunities and their zone defense lived by the simple, tried and true mantra that football players often say:
“Bend, but don’t break.”

*****************************************************************

One hundred and nineteen blogs in this my maiden voyage of blogging all fun things in the world of men’s college basketball and I would like to say my honest and heartfelt thanks to the following people for making the “Forty Minutes of Hoops Fun” more than just a catchy URL.

First, to my “virtual class” of online friends that I enjoy emailing on a periodic basis.  To Tiffany, Kimberly, Cindy, Logann, Yasmin, and others that I might have forgotten–you mean a lot to me.  Words alone cannot express how much joy and satisfaction I get after reading some of your comments.

Maybe next season, my first big hope is that things will be even better for the blog.  Who knows?
Stick around and find out come the week of Halloween for more details.

Secondly, what a vehicle WordPress is.

It is simply incredible how the power of blogging can reach so many people.  And for that reason, count me as one of the lucky and fortunate ones that can convey their passions truthfully and with pure conviction that fun times are to be enjoyed by all who clicked on my link.

Whether it was to take a mental break from a rough day at the office or just to hear my thoughts on the brackets themselves, just like jazz legend Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong sang years ago, “What A Wonderful World”.  And I enjoyed every minute typing each and every one of my blogs.

Well, it is time to say good bye to this lovely blog for the season.

Hope to be back and better than ever come the fall.

Judging by Mother Nature keeping winter’s chills in good supply similar to John Calipari’s rants on “proceed and succeed”, I hope my thoughts and headlines kept some of you nice and toasty warm at night throughout these last five months plus.

However, I will leave you with one more link–if and only if that you wish to savor some of the most relaxing and calm music this side of the Equator.

Please kindly point your browsers to my other passion in life as I talk about the best past and present artists in the world of Brazilian jazz:

http://bigzbossanovabeat.wordpress.com/

For some of you, see you in late October when the last of those leaves leave off a beautiful array of autumn colors when they leave nothing but bare trees in the end.

For the rest of you, I hope you enjoy the end of my other bracket challenge in the link above as a legend beat out a future rising star to win my second annual Fun Jazz tournament.

Unless there is any major news affecting the sport (whether it is rule changes, new announcers entering the Madness scene, or which schools will suffer the most when the NBA Draft comes and goes in late June), I am sure there will be no shortage of news online.

It is best for me to leave you with the 1990 song by the rock group Scorpion.  No matter what happens going forward, there will be always be “Winds of Change” in the world of college basketball:

It is time to lock things up and put this baby to cold storage until the new hoops season begins in early November.

Please have an enjoyable and fun summer.

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