The Huskies led wire-to-wire, holding off several runs by the Wildcats in the second half en route to a 60-54 win at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and their fourth national title since 1999.
UConn (32-8) got 22 points from Final Four Most Outstanding Player Shabazz Napier, who scored 15 in the first half to help the Huskies lead by as many as 15. Kentucky trimmed the deficit to four at the half and pulled within one on three occasions in the second period, but could never grab the lead.
More surprising, however was the Wildcats losing the battle on the boards. UK entered the game among the nation's top five rebounding teams, but were beaten 34-33 in that category by a team that ranked No. 146 in Division I this season.
"They beat us to every 50/50 ball," UK coach John Calipari said. "They got every 50/50 ball."
UConn saw its lead cut to 35-34 and 37-36 early in the second half and once again at 48-47 with 8:13 remaining. The Huskies got a long 3-pointer by Napier to go up four, and after a drive by UK's Julius Randle, another long 3-pointer by Niels Giffey on the ensuing possession to go up five.
Kentucky then missed three of its next four free throws, and Ryan Boatright came up with a huge jumper late in the shot clock for two of his 14 points and a 56-50 lead with 4:10 to go.
The teams traded points down the stretch until Lasan Kromah sealed the win for the Huskies with two free throws at the :25.1 mark.
Giffey, who scored 10 points, gave UConn three players in double figures and knocked down a couple of key 3-point shots in the second half. DeAndre Daniels added eight points, six rebounds and two blocked shots for the champs despite being saddled with foul trouble for most of the game.
UConn won despite shooting just 41 percent (22 of 53) from the field.
James Young tried to rally Kentucky in the second half with a soaring, one-handed dunk. (USA Today Sports Photo by Matthew Emmons.)
Kentucky was led by freshman swingman James Young with 20 points and seven rebounds. Freshman forward Julius Randle was held to just 10 points on 3-for-7 shooting from the field and had only six rebounds, falling short of his 25th double-double on the season, which would have tied a UK record.
The Wildcats shot 39 percent (18 of 46) from the field in one of their worst offensive nights of the season. The 54 points were a season-low for UK, which averaged 74.8.
"I didn't do a good enough job for these kids tonight," Calipari said. "They needed more help in this. You could tell early on they were feeling (the magnitude of the game). We didn't have enough answers to finish off that team. Their guard play was outstanding.
"But, again, we had our chances, and that's all you can ask of your basketball team."
It was UK's second loss of the season at AT&T Stadium, this time in front of an NCAA championship game record crowd of 79,238.
Kentucky was attempting to become the first team to ever win the championship using a starting lineup consisting of five freshmen. Like Michigan's "Fab Five" in 1992 and 1993, the Cats came up just short in the title game, but they left a lasting memory with an unexpected tourney run that included four dramatic wins over teams seeded higher.
"This loss, it hurts really bad, but it's nothing compared to what we accomplished," Andrew Harrison said.
Added Randle: "This group of guys, they're special. We've been through a lot this season, but we kept fighting, and the fact that we made this run says a lot about the guys. I just hate that it ended like this."