Friday, March 21 2014 7:28 AM EDT2014-03-21 11:28:45 GMT
RALEIGH, NC (WMBF) - This week, Coastal Carolina joins Duke, Virginia, Tennessee and several other big name schools at PNC Arena for a weekend of games as the NCAA Tournament is off and running. TomorrowMore >>
Chants take the floor for a practice in Raleigh before taking on top-seeded Virginia Friday night.More >>
(RNN) – The highest combination of seeds in NCAA tournament history will square off Monday night for the national championship.
No. 7 seed Connecticut will face No. 8 seed Kentucky in a battle of two teams with historic basketball pedigrees that weren't expected to advance this far.
UConn edged overall No. 1 seed Florida 63-53 in the semifinals, beating the Gators for the second time this season. Florida had just three losses all year and two were to the Huskies. UConn also gave the Gators their last lost prior to a 30-game winning streak that ended Saturday at UConn's hands.
Kentucky found its way to the title game in dramatic fashion with wins over Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin. Saturday's 74-73 win over Wisconsin put the Wildcats in the championship after a 3-pointer with 5 seconds remaining gave them the lead. Wisconsin had missed its first free throw of the game to set up the opportunity and the Badgers' attempt at a game-winner bounced off the rim.
Aaron Harrison has been the go-to player for the Wildcats in the final minutes. His 3-pointer from long range proved to be the difference – the third time since the NCAA tournament started that's he's come through in the clutch.
It was not a surprise for Harrison to be the deciding factor, but the 3-pointer was only the second one Kentucky had made the entire game. The freshman guard leads a team that has lived up to its preseason hype despite it not looking like that way prior to the SEC tournament.
The Wildcats nearly beat Florida in the SEC championship game and were put in the Midwest Region, which most experts considered the toughest one in the tournament. Two No. 8 seeds have made the championship game and Kentucky could become the second to win – tying the mark for the lowest seed to claim the national championship.
On the other side is Shabazz Napier, a senior point guard, leading the only No. 7 seed to make the championship game. Connecticut not only ousted the top-seeded Gators, but led by the largest margin any team has had over Florida all season.
Connecticut won the championship over Butler in 2011 when the previous record for highest seeds was set. The Huskies still have three players from that team on their roster – Napier, Tyler Olander and Niels Giffey – but UConn was ineligible for the tournament last season for academic reasons.
While Kentucky won in dramatic fashion, Connecticut was benefiting from its opponents' struggles. The Huskies survived a tough opening round match against St. Joseph's that went to overtime due to depth, beat depleted Iowa State and excised Villanova and Florida after those teams had uncharacteristic performances. Even so, Connecticut trailed Florida by 12 late in the first half Saturday.
However, Connecticut's road to the championship game was as difficult, if not more so, than Kentucky, which came out of the "Region of Death" and handed Wichita State its only loss of the season.
This is the first time the two teams meeting for the championship were not in the tournament field the previous year since 1966 when Kentucky lost to Texas Western.
Regardless who wins, this will be the first time since 1997 the national champion didn't win either its conference regular season or tournament championship.
Copyright 2014 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.
Need something to help you get through two weeks of March Madness? Try playing Basketball Cliche Bingo. Mark off the words or phrases that are overused during each game of the tourney.More >>
Don't like basketball? Need something to help you get through two weeks of March Madness? Try playing Basketball Cliche Bingo. Mark off the words or phrases that are overused during each game of the tournament.More >>