Practically nobody saw this coming.
Few prognosticators and even fewer casual bracketologists believed it would come down to this, but it did.
No. 7-seeded Connecticut defeated Kentucky, which was a eighth seed, 60-54 on Monday evening to secure the NCAA Division I national championship in front of a packed house at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium.
Despite being a matchup almost no one predicted, it was a game virtually everyone enjoyed, including a pair of area coaches, who watched from the comfort of their homes.
“I thought it was a great game, and it was a great game for kids to watch as well,” Copperas Cove boys head basketball coach Billy White Jr. said. “It was just a hard-fought game, and it was a great national championship game. The team that played the hardest won.”
Lometa boys head coach Aaron Nuckles agreed.
“It was a six-point game, and I thought it was going to be even closer than that,” he said. “I thought it was going to overtime. ... It was a really entertaining game.”
The night capped off another enthralling college basketball season while also ending March Madness with one of the most unexpected yet intriguing finals in recent history.
For Nuckles, who admitted he was unable to watch many college basketball games during the regular season, the postseason was one to remember.
“It was one of the most fun tournaments I can ever recall,” he said. “Anyone from No. 1 through even a couple of No. 13 seeds could have got here. I wouldn’t have been surprised by anyone. Everybody had a shot at it.”
In the end, however, the Huskies proved to be the team of destiny.
In a matchup of the lowest combined seeds in the tournament since expanding to 64 teams in 1985, senior guard Shabazz Napier scored a game-high 22 points, adding six rebounds, three assists and three steals en route to winning the program’s second national title in four years.
Last year, the Huskies were banned from postseason play by the NCAA because of several years of poor academic performances, but the tournament hiatus did little to slow them down.
Connecticut defeated No. 1 overall seed Florida in the Final Four to reach the championship game and also had wins against No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Iowa State and No. 4 Michigan State in the East Region.
After the game, White gushed over Napier’s play.
“I thought he was the best player on the court tonight,” White said, “and he led his team to a victory. The things he was doing on the court — not only just scoring, but being a leader, coming up with defensive stops and being a big rebounder. Leadership like that goes a long way, and it was a big part in them making a run like they did and winning a national championship against a team more talented than themselves.”
Along with countless others, White and Nuckles both picked Florida to win the title this season. Nevertheless, each is happy to be wrong when it results in an exciting postseason.
“That is the great thing about the tournament,” Nuckles said regarding the tournament’s traditional unpredictability. “People will complain Wichita State had the toughest road of the No. 1 seeds and whatnot, but I don’t think it mattered because I didn’t see any other No. 1 seeds there. Basically, nobody can say anything.”
Contact Clay Whittington at firstname.lastname@example.org