ARLINGTON, Texas — The horn sounded inside the oversized football stadium at 11:18 p.m. Eastern time and the underdogs embraced on the court, celebrating amid confetti and cheers.
Somehow, some way, the University of Connecticut men's basketball team was the last team standing. Say, Connecticut basketball fans: The Huskies, overlooked and underrated, are national champions.
One half of a UConn sweep is complete. On Tuesday night, the women's team will face Notre Dame for the national title.
Ten years ago, UConn dominated college basketball with men's and women's title. This year, Geno Auriemma's team was a season-long favorite to win a championship. Kevin Ollie's team, though, was never viewed as a contender.
But led by the sublime play of senior guard Shabazz Napier, UConn marched to an unexpected spring run. Napier led with 22 points and backcourt mate Ryan Boatright added 14 as UConn beat Kentucky's lineup of talented freshmen.
Who saw this coming?
The Huskies did. They bounced onto the court, guard Boatright screaming, "Showtime, baby!" as he charged past the student section.
And those students, along with all of the other UConn fans in North Texas, were loud and energetic as the Huskies raced to an early lead. It was 6-6 before UConn reeled off an 11-2 runs, sparked by guards Boatright and Napier.
When Napier dropped a three-pointer with just over eight minutes left in the half, UConn led by 12 points and Kentucky seemed disoriented. But the young Wildcats did not let the game slip away, scratching back with a series of three-pointers from James Young and Andrew Harrison.
By the time halftime arrived, UConn's lead had shrunk to 35-31 The large contingent of Kentucky fans was rocking and the momentum had clearly slipped from UConn's collective hands.
And throughout the second half, the Wildcats pushed and prodded and pressured UConn. But each time Kentucky did something jaw-dropping — a backboard shaking dunk by Kyle Anderson, a power jam by Young — UConn had an answer.
Napier coolly hit a jumper or Boatright scored on a drive or DeAndre Daniels navigated in the paint and scored. They simply withstood every push and they stood on the podium after the game, celebrating with a coach who took over two years ago and began with a team banned from postseason play.
A year later, they are champions.
Did anyone see this run coming?
Only those watching through blue-colored glasses.
Sure, the Huskies had an encouraging start to their season with a one-point victory over Maryland at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. They won their first nine games, including a buzzer-beating victory over Florida on Dec. 2.
But there was a loss to Stanford in mid-December and a funk as the year ended. UConn dropped games at Houston and Southern Methodist during a trip through Texas and there were questions about just how good the team was.
The Huskies were ranked 18th in The Associated Press preseason poll and reached No. 9 when they were 9-0. Four weeks later, they fell out of the Top 20.
The regular season ended with a thud — Louisville 81, UConn 48. Rick Pitino's team looked poise to defend its title, Ollie's team looked lost.
"We're at the bottom right now," Ollie said. "This is the worst we could ever play."
Ollie, though, breathed life into his team over the next few days. The Huskies, then ranked 24th in the country, traveled to Memphis, Tenn., for the American Athletic Conference tournament with a sense of renewal.
And there was a sign the postseason could be interesting. They beat No. 19 Memphis and No. 13 Cincinnati en route to the title game matchup with No. 5 Louisville. The Cardinals beat the Huskies 71-61, but it was clear UConn had dusted off the remnants of the regular-season blowout loss and was prepared for the NCAA Tournament.
Still, did anyone see this run coming?
The NCAA Tournament opened with an overtime win over St. Joseph's before a victory over former Big East Conference rival Villanova. The Huskies strutted into Madison Square Garden, their home away from home, for the East Regional semifinals.
With MSG overrun with Connecticut fans, No. 7 seed UConn beat No. 3 seed Iowa State. Ollie's players were confident and feeling invincible.
With a trip to the Final Four at stake, UConn stepped onto the floor in New York City and upset Michigan State. Somehow, out of nowhere, UConn was one of the last four teams standing.
Yet as the Huskies prepared to face the No. 1 team in the country, UConn was being dismissed and disrespected. People around the program made note of the national perception that UConn didn't belong.
"You've got them right where you want them," former coach Jim Calhoun said.
The way Calhoun saw it, there's nothing more dangerous than an underdog. Underdogs attack, said the man who built the program.
But really: Did anyone see this coming?
UConn fell into a 12-point hole early against Florida. The Gators, carrying a 30-game winning streak into the game, appeared to be poised to run away with a win.
But UConn gathered itself and began playing a suffocating defense. The Huskies, the last team to beat Florida, didn't just win, they grabbed the game and never let go.
And so the yellow brick road landed UConn at the top of the mountain. The Huskies are champions for the fourth time and first time since 2011, when Napier was a freshman.
"Ladies and gentleman, you're looking at the hungry Huskies," Napier said as the crowd erupted after the game.
The team will return to Gampel Pavilion in Storrs for a championship rally Tuesday. The doors will open to the public at 4:30 p.m. and the team is expected to arrive in Storrs about 5 p.m. There will be no celebration at the airport.
The event at Gampel is free and open to the public. The program will include brief comments from Ollie and other individuals.