Anthony Davis leads Kentucky to title
BY HERB GOULD firstname.lastname@example.org April 2, 2012 11:41PM
Updated: May 4, 2012 8:15AM
NEW ORLEANS — One-and-done might not be for everybody, but it works for Kentucky.
The Wildcats, who might ‘‘graduate’’ five freshmen and sophomores to fancy NBA jobs this summer, completed their youthful run to destiny Monday by defeating Kansas 67-59.
It was the eighth national championship for Kentucky (38-2), which cut down the nets for the first time since 1998. Only UCLA (11) has won more titles.
It was the first title in four Final Four trips for controversial Wildcats coach John Calipari, who took Massachusetts and Memphis to Final Four appearances that later were vacated.
‘‘This is not about me,’’ Calipari said. ‘‘This is about these 13 players, about the Big Blue Nation. I don’t know of any team that has sacrificed for each other like this team. They deserve this moment. They really do.’’
The Jayhawks (32-7) came up one game short in their bid to win their second national championship in five seasons.
South Sider Anthony Davis, Kentucky’s 6-10 freshman sensation, was named the most outstanding player of the Final Four after turning in another dominant performance reminiscent of defensive legend Bill Russell.
Despite scoring only six points on 1-for-10 shooting, Davis was a force in the game by grabbing 16 rebounds, blocking six shots and altering Kansas’ offensive plans in far-reaching ways.
‘‘It’s not me,’’ Davis said. ‘‘It’s these guys behind me. I told them: ‘Y’all score the ball. I’m going to defend and rebound.’ ’’
Trailing by 14 points at halftime, the Jayhawks refused to go down easily. After being outplayed in the first half, they dug in defensively and cut their deficit to 48-38.
Doron Lamb, who led the Wildcats with 22 points, ended that threat with back-to-back three-pointers for a 54-38 Kentucky lead.
Led by Tyshawn Taylor (19 points) and Thomas Robinson (18 points, 17 rebounds), Kansas still would not go quietly. The Jayhawks got as close as 62-57 with 1:37 left, but that was it.
The Wildcats prevailed despite shooting only 27 percent in the second half.
‘‘[We] did it with defense, unbelievable defense,’’ Calipari said. ‘‘In the second half, I pulled the reins back, and [the players] were all over me. But you have to give Kansas credit. They didn’t stop.’’
The NCAA tournament had a classic look this season, right down to the final game. The two all-time winningest college basketball programs played for the national championship.
Kentucky had won 2,089 games and Kansas 2,070. Either 2,090 or 2,071 promised to be a victory that would be one of the best.
The burden was on the Wildcats, who emerged as the best team in the nation, to finish the job against the Jayhawks. Kentucky fans hungry for their first title since 1998 made their presence felt in the Superdome crowd of 70,913.
Although the Wildcats started three freshmen and two sophomores, speculation that this team might wind up having five or six first-round picks in the NBA draft this summer meant there was no time to lose. In addition, the time seemed right for Calipari to finish with a flourish.
But if Kentucky, which was a 61/2-point favorite, had a talent edge, Kansas had some intangibles on its side, too.
For one, even though the Jayhawks had more talent in the last couple of years than they did this season, this team had shown a knack for finding ways to win. And in Robinson, who is projected to be the third overall pick in the NBA draft — behind Wildcats freshmen Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — Kansas had a solid weapon.
After a first half that Kentucky dominated 41-27, there was little reason to think the Jayhawks would be able to mount a comeback. They did, however, make a game of it.
The Wildcats shot 53 percent (16-for-30) in the first half to Kansas’ 33 percent (11-for-33) and made five more baskets despite taking three fewer shots. Kentucky also had a 22-14 edge in rebounds before halftime.