HOUSTON --- Seen as little more than a one-man novelty, Connecticut wasn't given much chance in the brutally tough Big East. A national title contender? Please.
With a bruising finish to an improbable run, the Huskies have a message for all the doubters: Shhh!
Connecticut wrapped up its third national championship Monday night, pushing Butler around for a 53-41 victory to secure a spot in history for coach Jim Calhoun and star Kemba Walker.
"In the beginning of the season, we were hearing a lot of negativity: too young, all we have is Kemba Walker, no true post presence," sophomore forward Alex Oriakhi said.
"With this team, we just worked hard. I'm happy the hard work has paid off and we were able to prove people wrong when they said we couldn't."
The doubt started in the preseason, when Connecticut was picked 10th in the Big East and an afterthought in the polls. Calhoun wasn't even sure what he had in this group of mostly underclassmen, joking before the Maui Invitational he was still trying to learn everyone's name.
Walker raised the Huskies' profile with his performance in Maui and did it again in the Big East Tournament after 9-9 run through conference nearly derailed their season.
The Huskies (32-9) were a nearly unstoppable combination of star power and grit in the NCAA Tournament.
"We were unstoppable. That's why we're national champions," said Walker. "We're the best team in the country."
Coming off a trip to the Final Four the year before, Calhoun looked worn down last season, which included an NCAA investigation and the death of his sister-in-law and college roommate.
But, after missing the NCAA Tournament for one of the few times in his career, Calhoun seemed to have the bounce back in his step this season, pulling off one of the best coaching jobs of his career.
"I've been fortunate to have some great teams at UConn, to win a couple of tournaments," Calhoun said. "Very honestly, this group to me will all be incredibly special. They're all special in their own way, but I needed this team."
- Connecticut's win Monday on CBS earned an 11.7 fast national rating and 18 share.
That's down 18 percent from last year's Duke-Butler final, when the underdog Bulldogs had a chance to win it at the buzzer.