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National Championship Preview: Kentucky vs. Connecticut

Destiny will meet destiny when No. 7 Connecticut and No. 8 Kentucky take the court Monday night in Arlington, Texas for the national championship.

The Huskies and Wildcats couldn’t compete in last year’s tournament due to postseason bans. In fact, Kentucky has won 11 straight NCAA tournament games, and with their last loss coming in 2011 to Connecticut. (via @SportsCenter on Twitter)

This year, the two teams have made two of the most surprising runs in tournament history.

Backcourt: 

Connecticut’s tandem between Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright stifled Florida’s Scottie Wibekin to only four points on 2-of-9 shooting from the field, and 0-for-3 from long range.

Napier’s stout defense led to his strong ability to see the court offensively, setting up DeAndre Daniels in the paint, and his quickness allows him and Boatright to create space to score. Napier scored 12 points along with six assists, three rebounds, and four steals. Boatright added 13 points, six rebounds, and three assists.

Meanwhile, Aaron Harrison had had three of the most clutch performances in NCAA tournament history, after hitting shots against Louisville, Michigan, and Wisconsin to put the Wildcats in the title game. Aaron, and his twin brother, Andrew scored eight and nine points, respectively against the Badgers. Aside from the Harrison’s, fellow freshman James Young was overshadowed, leading Kentucky in scoring with 17 points in the semifinals.

Frontcourt:

Connecticut is led by DeAndre Daniels, who scored 20 points and 10 rebounds in their semifinal win over Florida. Even though the Huskies trailed early 16-4, Daniels hit two three’s to help get Connecticut back in the game. His outside and inside game made it difficult for the Gators to defend, as the Huskies scored more points in the paint in the second half (26) than the Gators did all game (24). There’s no doubt Kentucky will have their hands full with Daniels, but Florida’s Patric Young did score 19 points, and the Wildcats post players may find similar success.

Down low for Kentucky, freshman Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson along with sophomore Alex Poythress held Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky to eight points on the defensive side of the ball. Offensively, Randle scored 16 points, Johnson added 10 points, and Poythress contributed eight points.

Bottom Line: 

It will interesting to see how Connecticut’s defense holds up against Kentucky’s offense, as the Wildcats like to push the ball. Both teams have a very good inside presence, and the key may come down to the glass. Kentucky edged Wisconsin, 32-27 in rebounds, and 11 to six in offensive rebounds. It will key for the Huskies inside to keep Randle, Johnson, and  Poythress from making big plays inside, and from getting rebounds.

After all, if the game does comes down to a late three-pointer again, simple advice is to guard beyond the arc, and Aaron Harrison. For Kentucky, the Wildcats needs to stop Napier from penetrating, and finding passing lanes to set up Boatright and Daniels. The Wildcats will need to create turnovers in order to play at their own pace.

Prediction: 

Kentucky 74, Connecticut 67

**Email Sam at tastadsam@gmail.com for comments and story ideas. Follow him on Twitter @samtastad for updates on tonight’s game as Sam will at the NCAA title game between the Huskies and Wildcats.**

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

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