After trailing by 15 points in the first half, the Wildcats closed to within a point three times in the second half. Kentucky, which started the season ranked No. 1, could never kick down the door against the determined Huskies.
The Wildcats left the court with more questions. With seven freshmen who played regularly, many are expected to leave for the NBA. A tweet sent before the game from former Wildcat Rex Chapman said Calipari would leave for the Lakers after the season.
“The Lakers have a basketball coach,” he said. “Kentucky has a basketball coach. I got the best job in the country. I’m not going to even dignify that stuff.”
For Connecticut, the expectations were just raised back to the old standard.
“Someone called us Cinderella,” said Ollie, flashing an incredulous expression. “No. We’re UConn. This is what we do. We’re born for this. We’re bred to cut down nets.”
Ollie became just the fourth African-American coach to win the championship and the first since Tubby Smith in 1998.
The Huskies bonded through their personal adversity.
Ollie hugged his mother, who has breast cancer, and his wife on the court. Napier slung his arm around his mother’s neck as they craned to watch "One Shining Moment" on the giant video board. Boatright, who struggled this year with the murder of his cousin, sought out his mother for a postgame embrace.
The victory was a validation for the Boatrights, who were often criticized when Ryan initially accepted a scholarship in junior high to USC and later missed games as a freshman because of an NCAA investigation into improper benefits received by his family.
“It’s about going after what your desires and a goal you set yourself to,” Tanesha Boatright said. “And he accomplished it. The distractions, the investigation, coaches retiring, naysayers, it didn’t matter. He’s just a warrior. He’s just a fighter. Even at times when I didn’t understand, he’d tell me, ‘Mom, I got it.’”
For Boatright, the victory was confirmed his determination.
“I’m going to enjoy this as much as I can,” he said, noting he hasn’t made a decision about leaving for the NBA. “I’m just blessed to be here.”
Few saw Connecticut making this championship run. The players believed they were due.
“When you believe something so much you understand what may happen,” Napier said.