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Thursday, June 01, 2023
<p>Connecticut guard Lasan Kromah cuts down the net after beating Kentucky 60-54 at the NCAA Tournament championship game Monday in Arlington, Texas.</p>

Connecticut guard Lasan Kromah cuts down the net after beating Kentucky 60-54 at the NCAA Tournament championship game Monday in Arlington, Texas.

ARLINGTON, Texas — After Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison’s desperation three-point attempt clanked off the rim, Connecticut's Ryan Boatright grabbed the defensive board, dribbled down the court and spiked the ball in celebration as the buzzer sounded.

After not surrendering a lead for the entire game, UConn had finally achieved its moment of glory.

With a 60-54 victory against the No. 8 seed Wildcats (29-11) on Monday night in a front of a championship game-record 79,238 fans in AT&T Stadium, the No. 7 seed Huskies (32-8) — who beat Florida 63-53 on Saturday en route to the title game — are now national champions for the second time in four seasons. Second-year coach Kevin Ollie’s group responded to each run Kentucky threw its way it with poise.

“Somebody told me we were Cinderellas. No, we’re UConn,” Ollie said. “This is what we do. We’re born for this. We’re bred to cut down the nets.”

Behind Final Four Most Outstanding Player Shabazz Napier’s 22 points, the Huskies capped off an incredible tournament run with a win over a young Kentucky team riding a ton of momentum. UConn knocked off 10-seed Saint Joseph’s, 2-seed Villanova, 3-seed Iowa State, 4-seed Michigan State and No. 1 overall seed Florida to get to this point.

Out of the gates, the Huskies were firing. Thanks to eight early points from Boatright and a hot start for Napier, the Huskies jumped out to a 30-15 lead at the 5:59 mark.

But the Wildcats switched to a zone defense and soon clawed back into the game, closing the half on a 16-5 run fueled by three three-pointers — two coming from James Young.

Wildcats guard Aaron Harrison scored five quick points in the second half to cut UConn’s lead to 37-36, but the Huskies responded with an 11-3 run. UK threw its next punch with an 8-0 run — highlighted by a one-handed slam by Young over Connecticut’s Amida Brimah.

The Huskies answered with threes from Napier and forward Niels Giffey.

The Huskies began to pull away after DeAndre Daniels faked out two UK defenders and scored in the paint to give his team a 58-52 lead with 2:47 left. On the next possession, Julius Randle missed a jumper for the ‘Cats.

After wasting 31 seconds, Giffey missed a jumper. Luckily for the Huskies, Lasan Kromah was there for the offensive board with 1:54 left.

The result? Thirty-two more seconds of wasted clock.

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Young cut the Wildcats deficit to four points with a layup at the 1:08 mark, but the next possession, Kromah drew a foul on Alex Poythress in the post. The 6-foot-6 Connecticut swingman took advantage of the moment and sunk both of his free throws for the final points of the game.

On the final possession, the Harrison twins missed two attempts. As the Wildcats missed out on a shot at their second title in three years, the Huskies basked in joy.

“Even in that loss, I can’t believe what these guys got done together,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.

“I needed to do a better job for these kids today, because they needed more help in this.”

After UConn missed the NCAA Tournament last season due to a postseason ban for several years of failing to meet the NCAA’s academic standards, Ollie had his group at the podium soaking in the confetti and “One Shining Moment.”

A team that had lost to Louisville by 33 points on March 8 had made a complete turnaround.

“You’re looking at the hungry Huskies,” Napier shouted in a postgame interview with CBS’s Jim Nantz. “This is what happens when you ban us. Last year, two years, we worked so hard for it.”

Follow Landon Watnick on Twitter @LandonWatnick

Connecticut guard Lasan Kromah cuts down the net after beating Kentucky 60-54 at the NCAA Tournament championship game Monday in Arlington, Texas.

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