At this point of the tournament, there really shouldn’t be any more surprises leading up to tonight’s title game game between the No. 7-seed Connecticut Huskies and No. 8-seed Kentucky Wildcats. Neither team is “supposed” to be here but they both have made it to the biggest stage in college basketball — Championship Monday.
With the game just under five hours away, here are three keys for the Huskies as they’ll look to cut down the nets at Jerry’s World in Arlington, Texas.
1. The Huskies’ third point guard. Everyone knows about Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright and the havoc they cause on both ends of the floor, but it’s a third member of the point guard trio, Terrence Samuel, that may have one of the biggest impacts tonight. Against Florida, Samuel logged 18 minutes and despite scoring just four points, he provided yet another weapon for head coach Kevin Ollie. Napier and Boatright, along with DeAndre Daniels, are the main source of points for the Huskies, so scoring is not on the top of Samuel’s to-do list (despite his 11 points against Villanova and 10 points against Iowa State). His pestering defense helped UConn slow down the Gators’ guards and the same will be required if they expect to slow down the Harrison twins tonight.
2. Mr. X. Daniels has been a monster this tournament, averaging 17.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game (including two double-doubles and a 12-point, 8-rebound effort against Michigan State). He’s a difficult matchup — he can beat you in the paint and from beyond the arc. He’s the X-factor for the Huskies and if he can fill up the stat sheet one more time, there’s going to be a non-stop party in Storrs.
3. Play in the paint. Kentucky outscored Wisconsin in the paint 46-24, so it’s no mystery what their game plan typically is offensively. They’re sixth in the country in offensive rebounds per game (14.4) so the Huskies have so do a great job limiting the Wildcats to one-and-done trips on offense. Ollie has said before that his guys are “predators out there,” and their physicality has to shine tonight. Defensively, they’ve kept their last two opponents’ big men in check — Michigan State’s Adreian Payne mustered just 13 points on 4-for-14 shooting while Florida’s Will Yeguete managed just two points and three rebounds, though Patric Young had 19 but was never able to get comfortable in the paint. The only game in which the Huskies were outrebounded in the tournament was against St. Joe’s in the second round (30-29).