He made a few ill-advised passes and he got pushed by teammate Shabazz Napier for running the wrong offensive set, but Ryan Boatright was absolutely critical in Connecticut’s 60-54 win over Kentucky in the national championship on Monday.
The junior finished with 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting and had four rebounds and three assists. But it may have been Boatright’s defense – he finished with three steals – that made the biggest difference.
“I thought he came out really focused, and he kind of led the charge for UConn,” Wally Szczerbiak said on The Morning Show. “It just shows how important guards are. Kentucky just looked like they couldn’t get into their offense. The Harrison brothers, although they’ve made big shots and have been great players, I don’t think either of them is really a point guard (or) a pure kind of guy to get your team into (its) offense. I thought that was very evident early on in the game.”
It was also evident early on that something wasn’t right with Julius Randle, who was benched three minutes into the contest.
“He said he was fatigued; he said he was cramped,” Szczerbiak said. “Any time you’re playing in a big game, you’re going to get fatigued and you need to get your second wind.”
Sure, but three minutes into the game?
“Yeah, I don’t understand that. I really don’t understand that,” Szczerbiak said. “Julius Randle’s a guy they need to play through. I think UConn had a great scheme defensively to double team him every time he got the ball.”
Randle took just seven shots in 34 minutes. He finished with 10 points.
“Quite frankly, if you can’t take an outside shot and you just put your head down and barrel to the rim every time you get the ball, that can be defended,” Szczerbiak said. “Kevin Ollie’s a great defensive coach. He knew that’s what he wanted to do. He really packed the paint. Any time he drove or got the ball, there were two men waiting there for him. So it was tough for him to get his shot up, he was forced to pass the ball and move the ball. He did that – and Kentucky kind of resorted back to the team they were all year long.”
The Wildcats shot 39.1 percent from the field, 31.3 percent from three and 54.2 percent at the line.
“They were never a great shooting team,” Szczerbiak said. “They just had got hot and made big shots through this tournament, and in the national championship game they couldn’t do it.”
So, what do we make of this year’s one-and-done Wildcats?
“Julius Randle and James Young, as far as I’m concerned, they’re going to be NBA pros,” Szczerbiak said. “After that, there’s a lot of question marks and guys that I don’t think are ready for the next level. They showed a lot, and obviously you got to take the body of work and not just one game. The Harrison brothers, I think they have a lot of work to do. They don’t really have a true defined position. Neither of them is really a point guard. They could definitely use a little bit more time in school.”
Neither twin had a great game in the final. Aaron finished with seven points on 3-of-7 shooting, while Andrew had eight points on 3-of-9 shooting. They combined for seven turnovers.
The aforementioned Napier, meanwhile, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. The senior finished with 22 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals against Kentucky.
There are people – including LeBron James – saying Napier should be the first point guard taken in the draft.
Szczerbiak seems on board.
“I think there is merit (to that). I really do,” he said. “I haven’t seen Napier’s name really high up on the draft boards all year long, and I follow that really closely. But we’ve been saying it all year: He’s the best guard in college basketball and definitely the best point guard – and he’s proved it time and time again.
“You see his ability to play defense, he rebounds, he can shoot the ball, he can get his shot up, an he’s pretty quick to get by people and he really knows how to play in the pick and roll. I think he’s anther proven commodity. You know what you’re going to get. He’s going to produce right way.”