Two seemingly improbably runs to the national championship converge on Monday night as the No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats take on the No. 7 Connecticut Huskies at AT&T Stadium.
The Wildcats (29-10), under head coach John Calipari managing his third final, were ranked No. 1 when the season began but early struggles from a largely green, freshman squad resulted in an underdog label when the tournament began three weeks ago.
UConn (31-8) makes its return to the final with second-year head coach Kevin Ollie guiding a guard-heavy roster through the AAC and without a true inside scoring presence.
Kentucky eliminated Wisconsin in its Final Four matchup 74-73 on Saturday thanks to another big and late three pointer from freshman guard Aaron Harrison. Reliving the heroics that lifted his squad in the Elite Eight against Michigan, Harrison launched a deep shot with 5.7 seconds remaining and put the Wildcats on top for good. He ended the game with only eight points, but went 1-for-1 from three-point line.
Swingman James Young scored a game-high 17 points, while forward Julius Randle recorded 16 points and five rebounds, complemented by Dakari Johnson’s 10 points and game-high seven rebounds. The Wildcats were especially deft on the defensive end when containing Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky, who was limited to eight points off only seven shot attempts.
The Huskies took down top overall seed Florida thanks to a 20-point, 10-rebound performance from DeAndre Daniels, and 11 clutch points and four rebounds from German senior swingman Niels Giffey.
Senior guard Shabazz Napier, who averaged 23 points in the four previous tournament wins, opted to distribute more than score against the Gators. He tallied 12 points on 3-for-6 shooting, and dished out six assists while pestering Florida for four steals .
UConn also received a spark of defensive help from freshman Ghanaian center Amida Brimah,who swatted away two shots.
Its the first national title chance for UConn since their 2011 winning season, while Kentucky makes its second appearance in three years. UConn has won the two previous tournament meetings, including 2011’s national semi-final.
Betting Odds: Kentucky -2
Over/Under: 135 points
Prediction: Kentucky over UConn, 68-67