Most Amazing Moments from the National Championship Game

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistApril 8, 2014

Most Amazing Moments from the National Championship Game

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    UConn's indomitable Huskies were challenged throughout the national championship game by Kentucky's remarkable freshmen, but they never gave up the lead and earned a 60-54 victory and the school's fourth national championship.

    Kentucky was able to cut the lead to one point on three separate occasions in the second half, but UConn managed to come up with a momentum-turning possession on each occasion.

    UConn guard Shabazz Napier scored 22 points as he connected on four of nine three-point attempts and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.

    Here's a look at the most amazing moments from the national championship game.

UConn Dictates the Pace

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    Coaches are always preaching to their players about the importance of a hot start. That was never more true than it was in this championship game between UConn and Kentucky.

    The Huskies were the much sharper team at the start. They got off to a 24-12 lead and extended that margin to 30-15 with 5:59 remaining in the first half. Shabazz Napier scored 12 of UConn's first 30 points, and he seemed a step quicker and was more decisive than any of the Wildcat defenders.

    While Kentucky would mount several charges and cut into UConn's lead during the remainder of the first half and throughout the second, UConn was able to stem the Wildcats' momentum whenever it seemed the game might get away from them.

    That sharp start gave UConn the edge needed to dictate the pace throughout the game.

Huskies Play Dogged Defense

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    Kentucky's talented group of young stars advanced to the national championship game largely because of their ability to execute on the offensive end. That allowed the Wildcats to put together key runs at the most important parts of the game.

    If Connecticut was going to beat them, it had to find a way to excel on the defensive end against a bigger, stronger and more athletic team. The Huskies used their own athleticism and toughness to do just that.

    Kentucky could only connect on 18 of 46 (39.1 percent) shots from the field, and John Calipari's team rarely looked comfortable in its ability to run the offense. The Huskies registered nine steals—three each by Ryan Boatright and Napier—and Kentucky turned the ball over 13 times.

    Kentucky's defense also played an excellent game and frustrated UConn at several points, but Connecticut's defense was simply better.

Young Drives Kentucky

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    The Wildcats had been a spectacular second-half team throughout the NCAA tournament. Going into the championship game, they had been tied or behind at halftime four times, and they had won all of those games.

    The key players in those comebacks were clutch-shooting guard Aaron Harrison and explosive forward Julius Randle. Neither Harrison nor Randle were able to come through with their best performances against the Huskies. They combined for 17 points and made six of 14 shots from the field.

    However, guard James Young tried to carry the Wildcats to the title. He scored a team-high 20 points and a team-best seven rebounds. Young made five of 13 shots from the field, including two of five from beyond the arc.

    Young was especially good from the free-throw line, going 8-of-9 on his foul shots. The rest of his teammates could not come close to matching that performance.

Huskies Are Perfect from the Free-Throw Line

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    The Huskies were excellent throughout the tournament at the free-throw line, and they were perfect in that area in the national championship game. UConn made all 10 of its free throws, and that skill played a key role in the strategy Kentucky employed while trying to climb back into the game in the final minutes.

    Calipari did not attempt to foul UConn's shooters because he was convinced the Huskies would not miss. He told CBS after the game that trying to foul UConn would have been a fruitless strategy. 

    The numbers say Calipari was correct. 

    UConn was 101 of 115 from the foul line in the tournament. That's 87.8 percent. Incredible.

    — Michael Lev (@MichaelJLev) April 8, 2014

    On the other hand, Kentucky was brutal from the free-throw line. The Wildcats made 13 of 24 attempts (54.2 percent), and the difference in free-throw shooting between the two teams was one of the decisive factors in the game.