ARLINGTON, Texas — At the nine-minute mark in a national championship game in which it had become difficult for either team to score, at a crucial juncture when it appeared Kentucky had all the momentum, UConn's second-most important player took a fluke-ish and potentially historically bad step.
As guard Ryan Boatright called timeout and winced in pain after turning his left ankle, it appeared for a brief moment that the Huskies' chances to hold off Kentucky would be severely compromised.
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"Absolutely that was a tough couple of seconds for us," forward Niels Giffey said. "But I kind of knew Boatright, he's a fighter. He wouldn't miss out on the last 7 or 8 minutes of this game. Just the type of guy he is, he's such a fighter and tough-minded person."
Fortunately for UConn, Boatright didn't miss even a minute down the stretch and finished off a 14-point, 4-rebound, 3-assist, 3-steal performance that helped the Huskies win the title.
In addition to helping hold Kentucky guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison scoreless for the final 15 minutes of the game, Boatright also hit one of the biggest shots, drilling a step-back jumper from 15 feet that gave UConn a 56-50 lead with 4:13 remaining.
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"It was hurting, but we worked too hard and put in too much work," Boatright said. "I wasn't going to get a little ankle sprain with 9 minutes to go in a national championship keep me from being out there to fight with my brothers."
As the remarkable transformation of UConn from third-place team in the American Athletic Conference to national champions gets analyzed in the coming months, much of the focus will be on Boatright.
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Though always a key piece playing alongside Shabazz Napier, the 6-foot, 168-pound guard from Chicago became a defensive terror in the NCAA Tournament and played consistently on offense. For the six tournament games, he averaged 13.7 points, shot 46% from the field and made 24-of-28 fouls shots.
He also had the responsibility of guarding some elite point guards in Florida's Scottie Wilbekin, Michigan State's Gary Harris and Kentucky's Andrew Harrison and played the best defense of his career.
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"When he got into the other point guard like he did against Florida and like he did against us, they have a big advantage," Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
As it turned out, foul trouble was much more problematic for Boatright than the ankle injury.
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When he was whistled for his second foul with 4:19 left in the first half, UConn had a 33-20 lead. Coach Kevin Ollie sat Boatright for the rest of the half, and Kentucky was able to close within 35-31 heading into the locker room.
So when Boatright turned the ankle with UConn's lead down to 48-45, it could have been a disaster. But he knew it would take more than a sore ankle to keep him out.
"I just tied my shoe tighter," Boatright said. "That's all you can do when you roll an ankle, just put more pressure on where you rolled it at. The adrenaline and me having so much pride and wanting to be out there just took over. I'm sure once all this wears off it won't feel good."
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