Continued from page 1

A year ago, the Huskies were preparing for their first season in the new American Athletic Conference after the Catholic Big East schools decide to form a smaller league and none of the so-called power conferences invited UConn. Calhoun left and the program was turned over to the inexperienced Ollie. Most damaging, though, was the NCAA ban that triggered an exodus of five key players to the NBA or other schools.

Ollie didn’t give up on the guys who stuck around. He figured out how to make their grit, court sense and loyalty pay off.

“From the beginning, coach Ollie told us that we have a chance to be on top if we worked hard,” Napier said. “He always told us that. We always knew that the words were: ‘If we work hard.”

They did Monday, and stayed one step ahead of Kentucky all night, holding off furious rally after furious rally.

Kentucky’s biggest push started when James Young (20 points, seven rebounds) posterized Amida Brimah with a monster dunk to start a three-point play and trigger an 8-0 run.

In the middle of that, Boatright, who shut down Harrison’s twin brother, Andrew, most of the night, twisted his left ankle while receiving an innocuous-looking pass from Napier. He called a timeout. Got it worked on and came back out.

“I’ve got a lot of heart and I wasn’t coming out,” Boatright said. “We put in too much work all year for me to give up on an ankle sprain.”

Napier and Niels Giffey made 3s on UConn’s two possessions after the timeout, and that one-point lead was back up to five - fairly comfortable by this tight, taut, buzzer-beating tournament’s standards.

The big question in Kentucky is what will happen to all those freshmen. Julius Randle (10 points, six rebounds) is a lottery pick if he leaves for the NBA. Young and the Harrison brothers could be first-rounders, too.

On the UConn side, Napier is a more marginal prospect.

On the final night of this unpredictable college basketball season, though, that really wasn’t the point.

“It’s not about going to the next level, it’s not about going to the pros, but playing for your university, playing for your teammates,” Giffey said. “And I’m so proud of all the guys on this team that stuck with this team.”