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Shabazz Napier delivers on title promise

ARLINGTON, Tex. -- With a little bit less than eight minutes left in Monday night’s national championship game, Shabazz Napier walked on the court after a timeout and looked into the crowd of Connecticut fans and family and alumni. At that moment, Connecticut led Kentucky by only one point. At that moment, the Huskies seemed to finally be wearing down against the bigger, stronger, more hyped Kentucky team. And that Kentucky team seemed to be gaining strength.

In other words, it seemed like a tense moment. Only it wasn’t for Shabazz Napier.

He looked at the section of the Connecticut crowd -- looked at Ray Allen, various parents of players, the University of Connecticut president -- and he smiled a little bit. Then pursed his lips a little, and nodded slowly. There was absolutely no mistaking the meaning. This was the universal symbol for three words.

We’ve. Got. This.

What? How could they have this? Kentucky had come back time and again in this game. The Wildcats trailed by 15 in the first half. Came back. They had trailed by nine just three minutes earlier. They came back.

And even before this game, Kentucky had been on this magical tournament run with Aaron Harrison’s last-second shots flying in like planes at LaGuardia. And now it was a one-point game, and those Wildcat freshmen had their feet under them, and Kentucky coach John Calipari would remember thinking, ‘We’re going to win,” and that huge Kentucky throng of fans that swarmed Dallas were in all-out believe mode.

Shabazz Napier looked at the fans. He shrugged. He smiled. He nodded with the surest look he had.

We’ve. Got. This.

And, the craziest part of all: He was right.

* * *

Every now and again, you will hear coaches say that the NCAA tournament is won by guard play. That has always seemed to me one of those true but incomplete lines like “defense wins championships.” Yes. That can be true. But sometimes offense wins championships. Sometimes great big man play wins national championships.

But it is obviously true: Guard play CAN win championships if it is inspired enough. Here in Texas we saw inspired two guards -- Napier and Ryan Boatright -- command the stage not just like great basketball players but the way the greatest performers do, they commanded the stage like Richard Pryor did, like Bruce Springsteen does or Jennifer Lawrence. They were mesmerizing. You couldn’t take your eyes off of them.

“Oh boy,” the guy next to me said Monday night late in the game as Boatright dribbled with the shot clock running down and the game on the line. “This is going to be good.”

And it was good.

By now, all college basketball fans know about the brilliance of Shabazz Napier. He’s listed at 6-foot-1 and he might not be that tall. He looks younger and slighter than just about anybody else on the floor, as if someone’s little brother had run on the court. He makes up for this with a conquering confidence that seems so real you can almost see it, you can almost touch it, you can’t help but wonder it fits into the overhead bin on planes.

“He has a swagger about him,” Kentucky coach John Calipari would say after the game, and you could tell that coming from Calipari there is no higher praise. People with Shabazz Napier’s confidence are hard to face because they are the true believers. They don’t seem aware of their weaknesses, it never occurs to them that losing is a possibility; they do not respond to pressure the way other people do.

Put it this way: After Connecticut lost to Louisville at home by a dozen back in January, their fourth loss in the previous nine games, Napier gathered around the team and do you know what he said to his struggling team?

Napier: “’I said ‘Keep your head up. At the end of the day,' I said, ‘We're going to be the team holding up that trophy. I promise you that.’ ”

He PROMISED them that. As he told that story, Boatright was sitting next to him and he just nodded. Yep. That’s what he said all right.

As a player, Napier has great quickness and a great shot and a special kind of intensity. But more than anything, he just has a deep faith that overpowers people. After he made his nodding guarantee to the Connecticut crowd, he promptly turned the ball over. Well, that wasn’t good. But nothing shakes his confidence. Nothing. Next time down he made a long 3-pointer that busted the spirit of those Kentucky players and silenced the Kentucky crowd.

See? We’ve. Got. This.

Boatright is even shorter than Napier and yet, if possible, his game is more physical. Boatright can actually be the most intimidating player on the floor, even if he is barely 6-feet tall. That’s because he’s a defensive whirlwind. He attacks the ball-handler, smells out passing lanes, can pickpocket the basketball from any angle at any moment. What’s scarier for any player than to just have the ball taken away from them? In the national semifinal against Florida, not only did Boatright stifle the Gators star guard Scottie Wilbekin, he left Wilbekin withered and baffled, like a tourist who had his luggage taken at the airport.

And Monday night, it was like that again only this time against the bigger and more-hyped guards of Kentucky. The Wildcats could not get into their offense for much of the game. They looked constantly winded. “To get to the rim, you’ve got to get past us,” Boatright says. “So just because you’re big, that’s not enough. You’ve got to be quick. You’ve got to get low. We’re in your way.”

Napier concurs: “We have been playing against tall people our entire life. We’re both short. We kind of understand how to maneuver our bodies.”

There was some talk afterward about how Kentucky was able to cut the Connecticut lead from 13 to 4 in the last four minutes of the first half, and how this might have been due to their zone defense or the fact they final made a couple of 3-pointers. But I suspect it had a lot to do with the fact that Boatright wasn’t on the floor -- he had picked up his second foul with, yes, four minutes left in the half.  And for a time Kentucky’s offense flowed. That’s how much of a difference he made.

Boatright’s offense is not quite as bold as Napier’s but it does seem out of the same mold -- lots of quickness and the guts to challenge much bigger men. With about four minutes left in the game and Connecticut leading by just four, as mentioned, Boatright got the ball as the shot clock was winding down. He made three or four lightning quick moves and then stepped back and shot a high jump shot. The ball swished through.

“Huge play,” Calipari would say. “Boatright’s big shot, huge shot, they’re dying there and he makes a step back. ... Give them all the credit. They beat us.”


That shot put Connecticut up six and, oddly, Kentucky never really came close to winning after that. The last four minutes seemed to disappear in an instant, mostly because Calipari did not want his team to foul. What was the point of fouling? Connecticut was legendary from the free throw line the whole tournament -- they shot 88 percent from the free throw line as a team for THE WHOLE TOURNAMENT. Monday they were 10 for 10. “They weren’t going to miss,” Calipari said, and so he let the clock run and hoped for the best. It didn’t work out.

After the game ended, and Connecticut won 60-54, the Connecticut players would talk about how hungry they had been after being on probation last year, how they never lost faith even after the 33-point loss to Louisville later in the year, how their second-year coach Kevin Ollie had inspired them and driven them and made them believe. It was Connecticut’s fourth national championship in 15 years -- something no team had pulled off since John Wooden’s UCLA teams. They talked about that, too.

“Somebody told me we were Cinderellas,” Ollie would say, “And I was like: ‘No. We’re UConn.’ ”

But before all that, the game ended, and firecrackers went off, and streamers filled the air. And Shabazz Napier ran over to the Connecticut fans, that same group he had nodded to with eight minutes to go. And he shouted, “I told you! I told you!” Then he was engulfed in hugs. Well, he did tell them.

Connecticut wins NCAA title, 60-54 over Kentucky

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Coaches and players left them. Others told them to go away.

The guys who stuck around at UConn ended up with the last laugh and a pretty good prize to go with it: The national title.

Shabazz Napier turned in another all-court masterpiece Monday night to lift the Huskies to a 60-54 win over Kentucky's freshmen and bring home a championship hardly anyone saw coming.

"You're looking at the hungry Huskies," Napier told the crowd and TV audience as confetti rained down. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you banned us."

The senior guard had 22 points, six rebounds and three assists, and his partner in defensive lock-down, Ryan Boatright, finished with 14 points.

The victory comes only a short year after the Huskies were barred from March Madness because of grades problems. That stoked a fire no one could put out in 2014.

Napier kneeled down and put his forehead to the court for a long while after the buzzer sounded. He was wiping back tears when he cut down the net.

"I see my guys enjoying it," Napier said. "That's the most special feeling ever."

UConn (32-8) never trailed in the final. The Huskies led by as many as 15 in the first half and watched the Wildcats (29-11) trim the deficit to one with 8:13 left. But Aaron Harrison, who pulled out wins with clutch 3-pointers in Kentucky's last three games, missed a 3 from the left corner that would've given the Cats the lead. Kentucky never got that close again.

One key difference in a six-point loss: Kentucky's 11 missed free throws - a flashback of sorts for coach John Calipari, whose Memphis team blew a late lead against Kansas after missing multiple free throws in the 2008 final. The Wildcats went 13 for 24. UConn went 10 for 10, including Lasan Kromah's two to seal the game with 25.1 seconds left.

"We had our chances to win," Calipari said. "We're missing shots, we're missing free throws. We just didn't have enough."

Calipari said he decided not to foul at the end "because they're not missing."

In all, Calipari's One and Doners got outdone by a more fundamentally sound, more-seasoned group that came into this tournament a seventh-seeded afterthought but walked away with the program's fourth national title since 1999. They were the highest seed to win it all since Rollie Massimino's eighth-seeded Villanova squad in 1985.

Napier and Boatright now go down with Kemba Walker, Emeka Okafor, Rip Hamilton, Ray Allen and all those other UConn greats. This adds to the school's titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011.

"When they say Ray, Rip, Ben, Emeka, Kemba - they'll soon say Shabazz," said their former coach, Jim Calhoun, who was in the crowd along with former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and a father-and-son team whose dance to the "Happy" song got huge applause when played on the big screen at AT&T Stadium.

The crowd was cheering for UConn at the end.

A short year ago, the Huskies were preparing for their first season in the new American Athletic Conference after being booted from the Big East and not welcomed by any of the so-called power conferences. Calhoun, who built the program, left because of health problems. And most damaging - the NCAA ban triggered an exodus of five key players to the NBA or other schools.

Napier stuck around. So did Boatright. And Calhoun's replacement, Kevin Ollie, figured out how to make their grit, court sense and loyalty pay off.

"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," Niels Giffey said. "And I'm so proud of all the guys on this team that stuck with this team."

They were 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 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. The big question is whether they'll want to leave on this note.

"I think all these kids are coming back, so I think we should be good," Calipari deadpanned, getting big laughs.

He called his group the most coachable bunch he's ever had. They were preseason No. 1, a huge disappointment through much of this season. They were seeded an uninspiring eighth for the tournament and came on strong in time for a run to the final.

But they got outdone by a team on a different sort of mission - a team led by Napier, who stuck with the program even though he knew the 2012-13 season was for nothing but fun.

But what fun 2013-14 turned out to be.

Napier was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player and he earned it on both ends of the court, keeping a hand in Aaron Harrison's face most of the night and holding him to a 3-for-7, seven-point, no-damage night.

He could also shoot it a bit - including a 3-pointer in the first half when UConn was having trouble dissecting the Kentucky zone. The shot came from about 30 feet, right in front of the edge of the Final Four logo at Center Court, or, as Dick Vitale put it: "He shot that one from Fort Worth."

They felt it back in Storrs, where they could be celebrating another title shortly. The UConn women play for the national title Tuesday.

If they win, it will be the first sweep of the titles since 2004. The last school to do it: UConn, of course.

UConn students celebrate national championship

STORRS, Conn. (AP) More than 10,000 UConn students shook the stands inside Gampel Pavilion Monday night, then erupted in cheers, stormed the arena floor and poured into the streets as their men's basketball team won its fourth national championship, and second in four years.

"I'm just so happy to be a Husky right now," said Mike Butkus, a 21-year-old senior from Naugatuck. "So much pride. The last 20 years, you'd be hard-pressed to find a program more successful than us."

After the victory the students came outside and onto a plaza for a dance party in the rain. The school hired a disc jockey in an effort to keep crowds of students under control. As many danced, others were hanging from trees and throwing firecrackers.

Extra campus police and state police patrolled on and around campus and several local fire companies were on standby with ambulances. Several people were helped from the arena by paramedics, apparently with alcohol-related issues.

Students said they expect the party to go on into the early morning hours.

"Hopefully I'll be able to go to class tomorrow, but I'm not certain," said Vincent Buffa, a 21-year-old senior from Tolland.

Students waited in line for up to four hours to get a seat inside the arena just to watch on three large movie screens as their team played 1,700 miles away in Arlington, Texas.

A half hour after the doors opened, the arena was filled, and hundreds more were turned away.

"It's my first year of college, you've got to go big," said Ryan Massicotte, an 18-year-old freshman from Naugatuck who was sporting a fuzzy Husky dog hat and sunglasses with the dog logo on each lens. "You've got to show it off the right way."

The students sang the national anthem, chanted "Let's go Huskies" before the tip, roared when the home team was introduced and booed the Kentucky players.

The stands shook every time Shabazz Napier made a 3-pointer. The pep band and school dance team entertained the crowd during timeouts.

Fans jumped up and down chanting "I believe that we will win" as their Huskies struggled through a second-half rally by Kentucky.

A few minutes later, as the final seconds ticked off the clock in Texas, they pushed their way on the floor, turning it into a giant mosh pit as their belief became a 60-54 reality.

It was expected to be especially loud outside the North Campus residence hall, where an email from a resident assistant bent on enforcing quiet hours went viral on Monday.

School officials confirmed the authenticity of the email, but said it was actually sent out to residents of the RA's floor on Saturday, before the national semifinals. But it began getting wide circulation on social media sites on Monday.

The student, identified in the email only as "Derek" wrote that students partying because of a name on the front of a basketball jersey would be "cheering for laundry."

"That's the anti-fun," said Brian Aggerbeck, a 20-year-old junior from Hopkinton, Mass. "That's the opposite of what I want to do. I just want to be able to enjoy myself. I'm not one of those people who destroys things, but we should be allowed to have fun on a night like this."

There were no immediate reports of any major problems, but numerous alcohol-related arrests, the school said.

The undefeated women play for a record ninth national title Tuesday in Nashville. The Husky teams are now a combined 12-0 in NCAA championship games.

A pep rally to honor the men's team was scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday at Gampel Pavilion.

Police: Wolves F Cunningham sent threatening texts

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Minnesota Timberwolves forward Dante Cunningham posted $150,000 bail and was released from custody Monday night following an initial court appearance for domestic assault charges, with the possibility that more charges could be coming from a second arrest over the weekend.

Cunningham was arrested twice in three days after alleged incidents with the woman he had been living with for the previous eight months. Cunningham was charged Friday with felony domestic assault for allegedly choking the woman.

Police said they received a call from the woman in the early morning hours on Sunday saying that Cunningham had violated a protection order by sending threatening text messages that "rose to a terroristic level." Authorities have not charged Cunningham on those allegations and are continuing to investigate.

Cunningham surrendered Sunday and turned over his cellphone and computer as part of the investigation. The Associated Press left a message with Cunningham's attorney seeking comment.

The Timberwolves said Sunday they were gathering information about Cunningham's latest arrest.

"The situation with Dante Cunningham is very fluid and we continue to monitor all available information," the team said. "We reiterate that the Minnesota Timberwolves do not condone the behavior described in the accusations. We continue to wait for the legal process to run its course and will have further comment when appropriate."

The Wolves declined to comment much further after practice on Monday.

"I really don't know all the circumstances so it's just something that we'll have to wait and see what happens with that and we'll move on when we find out," coach Rick Adelman said.

Cunningham played for the Timberwolves in Orlando on Saturday night. The NBA's collective bargaining agreement requires the league and the Timberwolves to allow Cunningham to return to work while the legal process plays out.

"Nothing's happened to him (yet)," Adelman said. "He wanted to play. I think it's a situation where you have to listen to the league, you have to listen to different things. Right now I don't have any information at all about what happened."

Cunningham started against the Magic for the injured Kevin Love and had 12 points and six rebounds in 34 minutes.

In his fifth year in the league, Cunningham is averaging 6.1 points and 4.1 rebounds this season. He is set to become a free agent on July 1 after completing the final year of his contract that pays him $2.1 million this season.

---

Associated Press Writer Amy Forliti contributed to this report.

Raptors C Valanciunas charged with drunk driving

TORONTO (AP) Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas has been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.

Ontario Provincial Police say there was a report early Monday that a vehicle went through a drive-thru with open beer bottles visible. Police say officers located the vehicle at a home, where they arrested Valanciunas, alleging he was under the influence of alcohol while driving.

The 21-year-old Valanciunas is in his second season with the playoff-bound Raptors. He is averaging 11 points and 8.6 rebounds a game.

The Raptors say the team takes the matter very seriously and are disappointed Valanciunas "put himself in this situation." They says they are gathering information and will comment further "when appropriate."

Masiello on unpaid leave until he gets degree

NEW YORK (AP) Steve Masiello will be reinstated as the head coach at Manhattan College as soon as he receives his degree from the University of Kentucky.

The school announced Monday that Masiello, who had been coach of the Jaspers for three seasons, will be on unpaid leave until he gets the degree. During his absence, associate head coach Matt Grady will lead the program.

Masiello, who has a 61-39 career record at Manhattan, led the Jaspers to a 28-5 record this season and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament title. The Jaspers lost 71-64 to Louisville in the NCAA tournament.

Within four days of the loss to his former college coach and boss, Rick Pitino, Masiello agreed to become coach at South Florida. Then it came to light Masiello didn't get a degree from Kentucky and the job offer was rescinded.

Manhattan waited almost a week before revealing the decision to allow Masiello to return to his job.

"After an extensive review of the situation and extenuating circumstances, we determined that Mr. Masiello executed poor judgment but did not intentionally misrepresent himself in applying to the College," Manhattan president Brennan O'Donnell said in a statement.

He said Masiello intended to take summer courses after graduating but didn't. Masiello will complete his degree this summer, O'Donnell said.

Masiello said he is "extremely grateful and humbled by the opportunity" the school is giving him.

Yankees closer Robertson headed to disabled list

NEW YORK (AP) Yankees closer David Robertson is headed to the disabled list because of a strained groin just three appearances into his role as Mariano Rivera's replacement.

Robertson felt discomfort Sunday five or six pitches into the ninth inning of a 6-4 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, his second save in three outings this season.

"It's really disappointing," Robertson said Monday after New York beat Baltimore 4-2 in its home opener. "I would've loved to have been out there pitching the ninth today, especially on opening day here."

Instead, Robertson had an MRI that revealed a Grade 1 strain and setup man Shawn Kelley earned his first career save. Kelly pitched a perfect ninth that ended with him catching a toss from first baseman Kelly Johnson and keeping the game ball.

"Exciting," said Kelley, who learned Sunday night he might fill in for Robertson.

Robertson doesn't expect his absence to last more than the required 15 days.

"Anytime I sit for a handful of days I feel good as gold," Robertson said. "I think it will be rest a little while, play catch and get a bullpen and get right back in there."

Robertson made a smooth transition to closer after Rivera retired at the end of last season with a major league-record 652 saves. An All-Star setup man, Robertson was only eight for 18 in save chances during six seasons before taking over the role.

He's allowed one hit in three scoreless innings this year.

The Yankees bullpen was impressive without him Monday.

Adam Warren pitched the eighth and after a leadoff walk he retired three straight, striking out All-Stars Adam Jones and Chris Davis to end the inning.

"We're going to try to step up and fill that void for a brief period of time," Warren said.

Also, first baseman Mark Teixeira had an MRI that confirmed he had a Grade 1 right hamstring strain. Placed on the DL Saturday, Teixeira thinks he will only need the minimum time out. He said he will begin an exercise program Tuesday.

"I knew that it wasn't anything major when I did it," Teixeira said.

Jeter starts Bronx farewell memorably

NEW YORK (AP) Derek Jeter arrived for his last Yankee Stadium opener fashionably early at 9:35 a.m., attired in a gray suit, white shirt, purple tie and black Prada lace-up shoes.

His performance, if not stylish, was memorable.

Jeter missed a home run by about 2 feet in Monday's 4-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles. After he left the batter's box slowly leading off the fifth inning, the ball hit off the "8" in the 318-foot sign in the left-field corner and Jeter hustled into second with a headfirst slide.

"I had to pick up the pace a little bit," he admitted. "Yeah, there were some guys laughing - until a couple of them hit some balls and the wind got them, too."

It was a rare mind cramp for a player known for hustle and an unfailing ability to be in the right place.

"Maybe you get caught up in opening day," he said. "You probably haven't seen it, probably won't see it again. But what can you (do)? I was safe. It would be a lot more embarrassing if I was out."

Jeter scored one run, sent another home with a double-play grounder on a 1-for-4 day and was applauded every time he came to bat and fielded a grounder to shortstop.

This was Jeter's first appearance in New York since announcing Feb. 12 that his 20th season will be his last. With the retirements of Jeter's No. 2 and former manager Joe Torre's No. 6 likely, the 48,142 adoring and slightly frosted fans on hand during a cool and overcast afternoon almost surely were the last to witness a single-digit pinstriped uniform on opening day.

Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte formed a Core Four reunion for the ceremonial first pitch ceremony, a reminder of the five World Series rings earned during Jeter's era.

And Yogi Berra, the Yankees' 88-year-old symbol of post-World II dominance, was in the clubhouse in his wheel chair for some opening-day schmoozing.

Since first coming up to the big leagues in 1995 and establishing himself the following year, Jeter had been model Yankee, continuing the line of greatness that began with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and was extended by Joe DiMaggio, Berra and Mickey Mantle. He became captain in 2003 and still talks of owner George Steinbrenner instilling the compulsive obsession to win, recalling "if you didn't do your job, the Boss would get rid of you."

As players' lives became more public in the digital age, Jeter remained opaque and a bit Vulcan, suppressing emotion.

"Yeah, you have feelings and there's a lot of wild moments playing here in New York," he said, "but for me I just it was always easier for me to play if I tried to control my emotions."

After breaking his left ankle in the 2012 playoffs and limping through 17 games last year, Jeter decided 2014 was the end. He turns 40 in June and probably could play a few more years but felt this is the right time to move forward to the next stage in his life.

"He has a lot more mileage on his body than all of us," Posada said, having watched Jeter play through injuries that would have sent others to the bench.

Pettitte implored Jeter to "just try to embrace it and really enjoy" his final year "because he's going to blink and the season is going to be over and then he's not going to put the uniform on again."

"It's kind of weird, but it is what it is," Posada said. "We have to move on, and another core four has got to step up."

Jeter's head was bowed during much of "The Star-Spangled Banner." When the national anthem ended, he crouched for a few seconds, then got up, put on his cap and jogged down the first base line and the back of the infield dirt toward second base.

By coincidence, Jeter's first big league manager, Buck Showalter, was across the field running the Orioles. Showalter expressed effusive praise.

"A lot of people get caught up in the disease of `me,"' he said. "Derek never fell in that."

More than 3 1/2 hours before Monday's first pitch, Jeter was among the first players in the Yankees oval clubhouse. A gift basket of liquor at his locker, next to one of the new office-style swivel chairs with each player's number and the team's interlocking "NY" logo.

Seeing a business bonanza, the Yankees were selling jerseys with Jeter commemorative retirement patches, starting with replicas at $114.99 and going up to $240.99 for authentic models. Steiner Sports was hawking a game-used single cleat for $2,549.99 and game-worn jerseys at up to $25,000.

Jeter didn't have much hope of leaving the ballpark with any mementos.

"I'm good taking the win," he said, "but Steiner Sports has the rest."

GM Yzerman signs 4-year extension with Lightning

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman to a four-year contract extension that runs through the 2018-19 season.

Yzerman is completing his fourth season in Tampa Bay. The Lightning are playoff-bound for the second time during his tenure.

The extension was announced Monday by team chairman and governor Jeff Vinik.

The 48-year-old Yzerman won three Stanley Cup championships as a player and one as an executive in 27 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. The Hall of Famer says he's "grateful for the opportunity" to continue leading the Lightning.

The Lightning also announced Steve Griggs has been promoted from chief operating officer to team president.

Notre Dame, UConn set for historic title game

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Muffet McGraw and Geno Auriemma were well aware of the talk. There has been a buzz throughout women's basketball all season about the potential showdown between their undefeated teams.

Well, the wait is over.

UConn (39-0) and Notre Dame (37-0) are set to meet in an unprecedented championship clash Tuesday night.

"I think it's something that everyone's looked forward to all year long," McGraw said. "People were hoping we would end up here. It's great for the game and I think it's great we're both undefeated coming into it. It should be a great matchup for women's basketball."

Auriemma agreed that this once in a lifetime matchup - the first time undefeated basketball teams, men or women, have met for the NCAA national crown - could help grow the women's game.

"An awful lot of people might tune in Tuesday night that wouldn't normally tune in," he said. "A game on national television between two great teams, nothing could be better for the sport."

There's also so much at stake for both teams.

A victory by UConn over its rival would be the ninth of Geno Auriemma's career breaking a tie with Pat Summitt for the most all-time. And if he does it, he'll accomplish it in Summitt's backyard.

"I'm not a numbers guy and don't get caught up in that stuff," Auriemma said. "Wednesday morning when I wake up, my life doesn't change one iota. Stewie (Breanna Stewart) says she came to win four national championships, that's what I think is more significant. For Bria (Hartley) and Stef (Dolson) to win a national championship their senior years. They get `X' amount of chances to do it. God willing, I'll get more chances down the road."

While Auriemma deflected the talk on a record title, Dolson is happy to be a part of it.

"It's amazing," the 6-foot-5 Connecticut center said. "I mean, obviously it's something coach isn't going to talk about. We don't really talk about as a team, it's just something that we know that we have the chance help him kind of win that ninth one. ... But if it happens, for all of us, now we have two of the nine. You know we have, like I was talking about that small piece of history. It's just something we have a chance to kind of add to the legacy of UConn and add to coach's legacy. I think that's something he would be extremely proud of."

It would also be the fifth unbeaten season for Auriemma and UConn and the first time the Huskies went 40-0. They'd match Baylor as the only team to accomplish that feat.

Also if the Connecticut men's team can pull off a victory Monday night in its title game it would be the second time in a decade that both UConn programs were national champions.

Notre Dame isn't concerned about UConn's program. The Irish are looking for their first since 2001 - the school's only championship.

They have made the Final Four the past four seasons, including reaching the title game in three of those years. This year they hope for a breakthrough.

"Getting here consistently has been great for our program," McGraw said. "Taking the next step would be a huge accomplishment."

Notre Dame has owned the series lately, winning seven of the last nine meetings between the schools. The Irish players have a simple explanation why they've had success against the Huskies.

"We're not afraid of them," Irish sophomore star Jewell Loyd said. "You know a lot of people, like Kayla (McBride) was saying, they look at the jersey and they're just like, `Oh my gosh!' Obviously, UConn is a great program they've done a lot of things that other programs haven't done. But we go in there we have that swagger that chip on our shoulder that we're coming in to battle."

The former Big East schools have a mutual respect for each other, but that's about where it ends.

There's no love lost between the programs - not even with the coaches.

"We don't have a relationship," McGraw said. "I think that (the civility) got lost. When we were in the same conference, I think there was a modicum of it but I think after beating them and not feeling any respect from that, we lost something."

McGraw said it would be difficult for the civility to return.

Auriemma believes it's only natural for the teams be testy having played so many times lately. Before the Irish bolted for the new conference, the teams had met 12 times over the past three seasons.

"Once you play each other two, three, four times a year it gets pretty intense for lots of reasons," Auriemma said. "It's only natural. It will probably die down now that we're not in same conference and we play each other once a year, maybe two. What was happening before wasn't realistic, that's not normal. It's not healthy."

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Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg

Logano holds on for Sprint Cup win in Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) Joey Logano made a last-lap pass of Jeff Gordon during extra laps after a late caution Monday in a rain-delayed race at Texas, becoming the seventh different winner in as many Sprint Cup races this season,

Logano had a 2.2-second lead on teammate Brad Keselowski and was within a half-lap of taking the white flag, which would have guaranteed no extra laps. But then came the caution for debris after Kurt Busch's car brushed the wall and one of his tires tore apart.

On the ensuing pit stop, Gordon took only two tires and exited first. Both Team Penske drivers took four tires, but Keselowski missed a chance to become the season's first two-time winner when he was penalized for speeding on pit road.

UConn, Notre Dame advance to historic title game

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Women's basketball came away a winner Sunday night. After a season-long buildup, the NCAA tournament will be decided by the perfect championship game.

The undefeated titans of the sport this season will meet Tuesday night in an historic championship game when UConn plays Notre Dame. It will mark the first time in NCAA basketball history that unbeaten teams will play for a title when the former Big East rivals face each other.

"It is pretty amazing," Irish coach Muffet McGraw told The Associated Press after her team beat Maryland 87-61. "So many of the media and fans have been looking at this all season long. It's great that we've made it this far.

"Both of us remaining undefeated. See who the best team is."

Said UConn guard From Moriah Jefferson: "Now we can finally talk about it. That has been the talk of this whole tournament and I guess it is finally here."

The teams didn't play during the regular season this year for the first time since 1995 as Notre Dame moved to the ACC. That helped set up the championship showdown that will put the sport in the spotlight.

"It looked to me like as the season went on it almost looked like it was inevitable to happen," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "It was supposed to happen. Our sport doesn't have enough significant moments. ... To have the spotlight on Tuesday on two teams that one is going to lose for the first time this year, it's pretty remarkable when you think how hard it's to do for one team much less two."

Notre Dame (37-0) is one of the rare teams that has had success against the Huskies in recent history, winning seven of the past nine meetings, including beating UConn twice in the national semifinals. McGraw drew attention to that fact during the tournament selection show.

The Huskies (39-0) won the last one though, topping Notre Dame in the Final Four last season en route to the school's eighth national championship. A UConn victory Tuesday night will be a record ninth for Auriemma, breaking a tie with Pat Summitt for most all-time in the women's game. It will also cap the fifth perfect season for the Huskies and make them only the second team ever to go 40-0, joining Baylor which did it two seasons ago.

Auriemma has never lost a championship game.

Notre Dame will be trying for its second national championship. The Irish have had chances lately to win their first title since 2001, advancing to the national semifinals in four straight seasons. They lost in the championship game twice during that span.

They advanced to Tuesday night's game with a convincing 87-61 victory over Maryland behind 28 points from senior All-American Kayla McBride.

Notre Dame played without senior Natalie Achonwa, who suffered a torn ACL in the regional final victory over Baylor.

Even without their star forward, the Irish dominated the Terrapins on the boards, outrebounding them in record fashion. Notre Dame had a 50-21 rebounding advantage, including a 19-4 mark on the offensive end. It was the widest rebounding margin ever in a Final Four game, shattering the previous mark of 19 set by Louisiana Tech in 1989. Maryland broke the national semifinals record for fewest rebounds in a game of 25 set by Minnesota in 2004.

They'll need a similar effort against UConn and its imposing front line of Breanna Stewart and Stefanie Dolson.

The Huskies got off to a sluggish start against Stanford before taking control in the second half in a 75-56 victory. They probably can't afford the same thing to happen for a fourth straight game if they hope to win that record title.

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Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg

Browns agree to terms with WR Burleson

CLEVELAND (AP) The Browns plan to give Nate Burleson plenty of responsibilities. One of them probably won't be delivering pizza.

A free agent wide receiver with 12 years of NFL experience, Burleson agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Browns on Sunday night.

Burleson, who has made 103 career starts and played in 135 games since he was drafted in the third round by Minnesota in 2003, finished last season with 39 catches for 461 yards with Detroit. However, he missed half the year after breaking his left arm in a car accident when he said he tried to stop pizza boxes from sliding off the passenger seat of his car.

Even after the embarrassing mishap, Burleson kept his sense of humor and celebrated a touchdown catch in his first game back from the injury by holding the ball aloft like it was a freshly made pizza.

"I buckled my seat belt first," he quipped.

Burleson spent four seasons with the Lions, who released him in February in a salary-cap move.

The 6-foot, 198-pounder, who has been limited to 15 games over the past two seasons because of injuries, also visited with the Miami Dolphins before he met with the Browns on Saturday. Burleson gives the Browns experience and depth at receiver. He'll also be able to mentor young wideout Josh Gordon, an emerging star who led the league in yards receiving last season.

Burleson is the second free agent receiver signed by the club. Cleveland added Andrew Hawkins last month, swiping the speedy slot receiver from the rival Cincinnati Bengals.

Burleson has 457 career receptions for 5,630 yards and 39 touchdowns.

Lexi Thompson wins Kraft Nabisco

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) Lexi Thompson left Michelle Wie behind - off the tee and on the leaderboard in the Kraft Nabisco Championship on Sunday.

The 19-year-old Thompson closed with a bogey-free 4-under 68 at Mission Hills for a three-stroke victory over Wie. Thompson birdied four of the first nine holes to open a five-stroke lead and parred the final nine.

Wie birdied the final hole for a 71. She used her driver only four times, choosing to hit fairway-metal stingers on the other 10 driving holes - leaving her as much as 60 yards behind Thompson.

Thompson finished at 14-under 274 for her first major title and fourth LPGA Tour victory. She had only one bogey - when she missed a 3-footer on the par-5 18th Saturday - in her last 55 holes.

NCAA officials adamantly opposed to one-and-done

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) NCAA officials and Kentucky coach John Calipari at least agree on something: The one-and-done rule in college basketball needs to be revised.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said during his annual news conference Sunday that he is in "vocal opposition" to the rule established by the NBA and its union that requires players be at least one year removed from high school before declaring for the NBA draft.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby went further, saying "the NFL and NBA have been irresponsible in not providing other legitimate opportunities for kids that really don't want to go to college."

Calipari has said he favors a two-year period before players can declare for the NBA draft, even though his 2012 title team had three one-and-done players, and the team that he'll put on the floor in Monday night's national title game against UConn could have even more.

"As everyone knows here, this is enshrined in the labor agreement between the NBA and the NBA players, and not a rule that we have control over," said Emmert, who has spoken out against it in the past. "I think everybody here knows my position on it."

The age restrictions were put in place in 2005, two years after LeBron James joined players such as Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant on the none-and-done path to the NBA. While those players succeeded, many other high schoolers declared for the draft and struggled.

The rules have been tweaked and scrutinized since then, and there is still no consensus on what system is best. Some prefer the baseball model, which gives high school players the right to enter the draft immediately, but those that stay must wait three years. Others agree with Calipari that two years is appropriate, and still others believe that all age limits are ridiculous.

"I like the baseball rule," Bowlsby said. "I like, `Draft `em out of high school or leave `em go until after their junior year.' And I also think the NBA and NFL need to have some legitimate developmental program to allow people who don't want to go to college to go develop their skills."

The one thing that everyone seems to agree upon, including Calipari and NCAA officials, is that the current model serves neither the players nor the college game.

"Every president I know, and every conference I know, is pretty adamantly opposed to that, and hopes that the NBA and the NBA Players' Association will make some changes," said Michael Drake, the chancellor at California-Irvine and the incoming president of Ohio State.

Calipari has grown weary of the attention his program gets for churning out one-and-done player. He has had 13 of them dating to his days at Memphis in 2006. He argues that he is simply playing with the hand that he's dealt, and that the players who do leave for the NBA after only one season are simply pursuing their dreams.

In fact, Calipari was so disgusted by the negative connotation associated with the term "one and done" that he offered an alternative this week: "succeed and proceed."

"Every player that I've recruited, and they will tell you, I say the same thing: `Don't plan on coming to school for one year. You make a huge mistake,"' Calipari said. "But if after one year, you have options, that will be up to you and your family.

"Enjoy the college experience, enjoy the college environment, because the rest of it is work. It's not about family, it's about business. So enjoy it."

UConn and Kentucky for national title

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Connecticut and Kentucky couldn't have met in last year's championship game and few people gave them a chance to be in this year's.

Seventh-seeded Connecticut and eighth-seeded Kentucky meet Monday night in one of the unlikeliest NCAA championship games ever.

Neither was around in last year's postseason - Connecticut because of a tournament ban over academic issues; Kentucky because it didn't make the field. And neither looked like national title contenders at times this season.

Kentucky (29-10) and its outstanding freshmen went from preseason No. 1 to out of the rankings after some bad losses. And Connecticut (31-8) was not a popular postseason pick after finishing tied for third in the American Athletic Conference with multiple losses to Louisville and SMU.

In the tournament, the Huskies have stopped some of the country's top guards and put themselves in position for their fourth national championship, the previous three under Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun.

"Hopefully we have an opportunity to fall back on our defense," second-year coach Kevin Ollie said. "We have been doing that the whole year."

If Kentucky has a chance to win in the final minute, that defense better pay attention to guard Aaron Harrison, one of five freshmen starters.

He has hit huge 3-pointers in the Wildcats' last three games. Harrison rattled in a 26-footer with 5.7 seconds to go in the 74-73 win over Wisconsin in the semifinals. He made almost the exact same shot with 2.3 seconds left against Michigan for a 75-72 win that sent the Wildcats to the Final Four. Against Louisville, he hit a 3 with 39 seconds left to give Kentucky the lead for good in a 74-69.

"The biggest thing is he's not afraid to miss," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "He's OK with it. He's comfortable in his own skin. ... If you're going to make those kind of shots, you absolutely cannot be afraid to miss them."

These two programs have combined to win six of the last 18 NCAA titles.

"Playing against Connecticut, I mean, I'm just happy we're still playing," Calipari said.

Neither program could say that last year.

Connecticut was banned from the postseason after failing to meet NCAA academic standard. It had practice limitations and lost a scholarship. The players could have transferred but didn't. The Huskies finished 20-10 in Ollie's first year. They took the hit and made it back to the biggest stage.

"It's actually very impressive," NCAA president Mark Emmert said Sunday. "To see that team hold together. I think it's a commitment to those young men on that team that hung together."

The leader of the group is All-American Shabazz Napier who leads the team in almost every statistical category. He's the guy who makes the big shot or big pass. Fellow guard Ryan Boatright has taken some of the spotlight recently for his defensive performances against the likes of Keith Appling of Michigan State and Scottie Wilbekin of Florida.

"Defense is the biggest thing for me. The points will come," Boatright said. "I want to make him uncomfortable, don't let him get in a rhythm or flow. Their guards, God blessed them with height and they will try to take advantage of smaller guys like us but I've been the smaller guy my whole life and I've never backed down."

Kentucky is playing its best basketball lately, led by big man Julius Randle and the Harrison twins.

"We just had too much talent and we saw in spurts how good we could be," Randle said, "so it just felt like it was a matter of time before it clicked."

This is Calipari's fourth Final Four, but the first two - Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008 - were vacated over NCAA rules violations.

Now the Wildcats are on an 11-game winning streak in the NCAA tournament and they are one win from a ninth national championship for Kentucky.

"We all play the game of basketball to compete against the best," Napier said. "This is one of them games. ... They worked hard to get to this point and we did too. We're going to do our best to get this `W."'

Emmert: Unionization "grossly inappropriate"

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) The NCAA president called an effort to unionize players a "grossly inappropriate" way to solve problems in college sports while insisting the association has plans to change the school-athlete relationship.

Mark Emmert said Sunday that the NCAA wants to allow the big conferences with moneymaking teams to write their own rules, and those changes could solve many athletes' complaints more effectively than unionization.

"To be perfectly frank, the notion of using a union-employee model to address the challenges that exist in intercollegiate athletics is something that strikes most people as a grossly inappropriate solution to the problems," Emmert said at his annual news conference, held the day before college basketball's national championship.

He said it would "throw away the entire collegiate model for athletics."

The NCAA has spent the last three years writing up plans to change its governance structure to allow the five biggest conferences to have different rules from hundreds of smaller schools. Because smaller schools have fought against costly changes such as paying athletes stipends, the independence of the big schools could break a logjam.

Although the issues have been simmering for years, they have drawn attention in recent weeks with a lawsuit filed by former athletes about to go to trial and a National Labor Relations Board director's ruling that Northwestern football players should be able to form a union.

If the NCAA loses the unionization fight or the lawsuit, filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon, it could drastically alter the relationship between NCAA schools and 460,000 college athletes.

But, Emmert said, nothing the NCAA might do in coming months will be a direct response to either of those legal cases: "Those are conversations that have been going on for several years now," he said.

Neither Emmert nor the administrators who joined him for the news conference sounded overly concerned about drawing up contingency plans in case unions start sprouting up in the aftermath of the Northwestern case.

"There's 50 different sets of rules for 50 different states," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. "So, we're a long way from having unions. I think about it a lot. Haven't spent any time talking about it. I'm not going to speculate on it. It's a long way down the road."

Bowlsby and a panel that included presidents at Wake Forest, Kansas State and the future president at Ohio State agreed that many of the NCAA's thorniest issues, including paying athletes and improving their long-term health care, could be more easily resolved if the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC were given "autonomy" to draw up their own regulations.

"I think most of Division I memberships see that we're standing at a fork in the road," Kansas State president Kirk Schulz said. "What we're going to put out there again is not perfect, but I believe that the vast majority of members recognize that some of these things must change and that we need to do it rapidly."

The idea of giving the five big conferences autonomy - lest they splinter off from the NCAA completely - came up about three years ago after the full membership rejected Emmert's proposal for a $2,000 stipend for athletes that would help cover the gap between the value of a scholarship and the real cost of attending school.

Smaller schools, especially those that don't play football, can't afford that sort of stipend, while the bigger ones are trying to use some sort of pay-for-play model to keep peace with a growingly discontented group of players.

The biggest cash cow for the NCAA, however, is the basketball tournament that wraps up Monday. March Madness garnered a 14-year, $10.8 billion TV contract in 2010. The deal has grown increasingly lucrative over the years in large part because the tournament affords the little schools a chance to go up against the behemoths, and sometimes come out on top.

"We are committed to keeping ourselves in this one big division because of that," said Rita Cheng, chancellor at Southern Illinois, and the only small-school representative to appear with Emmert on Sunday. "As long as we can know that we can be competitive in the tournament and that our athletes can have opportunities, it's appropriate for us to say, `Your world is different than our world."'

Emmert and the other leaders said they were blameless for the NBA's "one and done" rule that allows basketball players to go pro after only one year in college. Kentucky has five freshmen starters and at least a few of them aren't expected to return next year.

"I've been a pretty vocal in opposition to that notion," Emmert said.

The president conceded that issue, like so many others, is beyond his control.

That's life in the NCAA, which has 351 Division I members, with many different agendas. Though Emmert disagrees with those whose legal maneuverings might undo the NCAA, he recognizes the need for some changes.

"It's a group that makes decisions in a ponderous democratic process," Emmert said. "These people to my left are trying very much to change the decision-making structure, so they can make decisions more rapidly and address things in a more real-time way."

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Jones' playoff chip-in wins Houston Open

HUMBLE, Texas (AP) Matt Jones earned his first trip to the Masters with a remarkable 42-yard chip-in on the first playoff hole, outdueling Matt Kuchar on his way to winning the Houston Open.

The win is the first on the PGA Tour for the Australian, who made a 46-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to reach the playoff. He ended it one hole later, chipping over the right front bunker on the 18th and watching it roll in.

Kuchar, who bogeyed the final hole of regulation, then missed his bunker shot to give Jones the win - earning him nearly $1.2 million and a trip to Augusta National.

Jones, who began the day six shots back of Kuchar, shot a final-round 66 and ended the tournament 15 under overall.

Wisconsin falls short, loses 74-73 to Kentucky

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) A record night at the foul line had Wisconsin seconds away from a trip to the national title game.

What the Badgers needed was perfection.

Ben Brust and Sam Dekker each scored 15 points, but Traevon Jackson missed a free throw with 16 seconds left and Wisconsin was left stunned after Aaron Harrison's 3 from the wing with 5.7 seconds to play gave Kentucky a 74-73.

It was the only free throw the Badgers missed all game, finishing a Final Four record 95 percent from the line, 19 of 20.

Not good enough.

"That's what you're going to get in the Final Four: a one-possession battle and unfortunately it just didn't fall our way," Brust said.

Jackson missed a jumper at the buzzer and the Badgers fell short in their quest for the school's first national title since 1941.

Instead, the Wildcats ended one of the most successful seasons in Wisconsin history, starting with a 16-game winning streak and culminating at the Final Four. There were tears and comforting hugs all around the locker room after the game.

"Our guys certainly had nothing to hang their heads about," coach Bo Ryan said. "We played hard, we played smart all season. That's how we ended up here."

Balanced scoring, bench contributions and clutch plays carried them into April, too. Sporting a little more firepower than the typical Wisconsin team under Ryan, the Badgers overcame uncharacteristic defensive shortcomings at times to get to the Final Four for the first time since 2000.

This time, though, Wisconsin (30-8) lost out in another test of basketball tempos. Board-crashing Kentucky (29-10) dominated the paint and overcame the patient Badgers' eight 3s.

The Badgers withstood wave after wave of Kentucky players swooping in for dunks and tip-ins, only to get done in by a 3-pointer from Harrison from well beyond the arc at 25 feet.

But even then, Harrison had to earn it.

"He was pretty deep out there. He hadn't really looked to pull (up) the entire game," said guard Josh Gasser, Wisconsin's best defensive player. "I saw him to start to rise up and I tried to contest the best I could."

Until then, the game still seemed to be going their way in spite of the overwhelming edge in athleticism for Kentucky and their band of NBA-bound talent. The Wildcats had a 46-24 advantage on points in the paint.

Ryan had the final minute set up perfectly - a tight game with the ball in the hands of Jackson, the junior he's trusted in such situations for countless games.

Jackson did his job in drawing a foul while attempting a 3.

Missed the first, hit the next two. It was just enough of an opening for Harrison to hit his game-winner.

One final chance to atone for the missed foul shot went awry.

"I thought it was in. We had other ... opportunities," Jackson said. "But the last shot was exactly what I wanted. I had him on his heels and got a good look."

The Badgers had effectively answered an earlier Kentucky punch that left them trailing by eight early in the second half.

Backup forward Duje Dukan had a tip-in to help Wisconsin, and his 3 with 11:51 left had the Badgers back on top 56-55.

Back-and-forth the teams went down the stretch in a tense and chippy game that wasn't decided until the last second.

Reserve point guard Bronson Koenig scored 11 in filling in for foul-plagued Jackson in the first half. Frank Kaminsky was held to eight points - 10 below his tournament average - but chipped in four offensive rebounds that helped keep several possessions alive.

It might take them a while to forget this stinging loss, but the Badgers won't be down for long.

As Kaminsky trudged through a hallway underneath AT&T Stadium, carrying his gear out for one last time, the always entertaining center yelled "On Wisconsin!"

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Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

Role players key UConn's 63-53 win over Florida

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Connecticut's 2011 national championship has been characterized as a one-man effort by Kemba Walker. Good as he was, he still needed help from teammates Jeremy Lamb, Alex Oriakhi and Shabazz Napier.

Now that it's Napier's turn, the same gotta-have-help method has applied - this time with DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright taking turns at the wheel.

Daniels carried UConn out of an early funk, Boatright bulled around Florida's guard at both ends and the Huskies are headed back to the national championship game after a 63-53 victory over the Gators in the Final Four Saturday night.

Daniels had 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting and 10 rebounds, and Boatright finished with 13 points to help finish off Florida's 30-game winning streak and send the seventh-seeded Huskies into Monday's title game against Kentucky.

"We've been saying all year that we've got a complete team," Boatright said. "It's not a one-man team. It's not a two-man team. We've got a complete team."

Napier has been UConn's unquestioned leader and had a solid night after a slow start, finishing with 12 points, six assists and four steals.

But stars often need an occasional lift from their sidekicks, and Daniels and Boatright both did that against Florida (36-3).

Daniels, the talented-but-sometimes-inconsistent forward, helped the Huskies (31-8) dig out of an early hole by scoring inside and out. He also hit a couple of big shots down the stretch to prevent the Gators from mounting a comeback.

Boatright was like a bulldog all night, consistently getting inside Florida's defense and combining with Napier to hold ailing Gators star Scottie Wilbekin (cramps) to four points and one assist.

"I don't know if you all keep thinking it's a one-man team, but it's not," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "Shabazz is the first one to tell you and I keep telling everybody it's not just him."

During the 2011 run, Walker was the unquestioned lead Husky.

But Lamb had some big scoring games during the title run, Oriakhi manhandled opposing big men in the paint and Napier, the confident-but-still-learning freshman, chipped in to earn a championship ring.

This has been Napier's team from the start and he's come through as a star player should, including a game-winning jumper to beat Florida back on Dec. 2 - the Gators' last loss.

In the rematch, Napier had a hard time with Florida's aggressive switching on defense, unable to find seams into the lane. UConn fell into holes of 7-0 and 16-4, and Napier didn't score until hitting a 3-pointer with 3:54 left in the first half.

Daniels led the charge back.

The junior has shown off flashes of his athleticism some games, disappearing in others.

It's been nothing but the good Daniels in the NCAA tournament, though, including a 27-point, 10-rebound game against Iowa State in Sweet 16.

Spurred by a conversation with former UConn coach Jim Calhoun before the national semifinal game, Daniels was at his active best, sailing in for a dunk during an 11-0 run and dropping in a pair of 3-pointers in the first half.

Daniels continued to be a matchup problem for Florida in the second half, keeping the Gators at bay, including a long jumper that put the Huskies up 57-47 with 2 1/2 minutes left.

"I talked to Coach Calhoun and he was like, `Man, nobody is talking about you,"' Daniels said. "All I said was not to worry about it because everybody was going to be talking about me after today."

Boatright, too.

The junior has been interchangeable with Napier in the backcourt, playing shooting guard when Napier runs the point, leading the team when Napier shifts to the two spot or heads to the bench. He also turned into UConn's point-guard stopper, hounding the opposing team's floor leader into mistakes.

Boatright had a quiet first half before starting to find seams in Florida's defense. He got to the rim a few times without much hassle against the long Gators and was able to find open shooters when they did cut off his drives.

Behind Boatright and Daniels, UConn scored all but two of its baskets inside the lane.

Boatright also helped lead the charge against Wilbekin, adding to his cramping woes by combining with Napier to hound his every step.

"It all starts with Boatright," Florida coach Billy Donovan said of UConn's defense. "He does a great job of pressuring the ball."

When it was over, the Huskies again were underdogs headed to the national championship - thanks to a pair of sidekicks helping the star get there.

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