NEW ORLEANS – Won and Done, indeed. Maybe even Over and Out.
All that really matters is that Kentucky parlayed a roster full of NBA talent into a 67-59 victory Monday night over Kansas for the school’s eighth national NCAA men’s basketball title – its first since 1998.
Kentucky’s top freshman, Anthony Davis, had a rough shooting night, but John Calipari coached this team to a wire-to-wire victory – a little dicey at the end – to cap a season that cried for no less than a championship for their ol’ Kentucky home.
“I wanted everybody to see, we were the best team this season,” said the coach who finally has the championship that eluded him for all these years.
Doron Lamb, a sophomore with first-round-draft-pick possibilities, led the Wildcats (38-2) with 22 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers that put them up by 16 with 10 minutes left.
The Jayhawks (32-7), kings of the comeback all season, fought to the finish and trimmed that deficit to five with 1:37 left. But Kentucky made five free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
Davis’ fellow lottery prospect, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, was another headliner, creating space for himself to score all 11 of his points in the first half.
Davis, meanwhile, might have had the most dominating six-point night in the history of college basketball, earning the nod as the most outstanding player. He finished with 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and three steals – and made his only field goal with 5:13 left in the game. It was a surefire illustration of how the 6-foot-10 freshman can exert his will on a game even on a rare night when the shot isn’t falling.
“Well, it’s not me, it’s these guys behind me,” Davis said after his 1-for-10 performance. “They led us this whole tournament. This whole game I was struggling offensively, and I told my team, every time down, you all score the ball; I’m just gonna defend and rebound.”
So much easier when you’ve got teammates like this. Davis is the likely first pick in the draft, though he said he hasn’t decided whether he will come out, and Kidd-Gilchrist won’t be far behind. Another first-round prospect, freshman Marquis Teague, had 14 points. And yet another, sophomore Terrence Jones, had nine points, seven rebounds and two of Kentucky’s 11 blocked shots.
“I love the fact AD goes 1 for 10, and you all say he was biggest factor of the game,” Calipari said. “He was 1 for 10. I asked these guys what they would do without scoring. You have an idea what he does.”
Kansas also has a lottery pick in AP All-American Thomas Robinson. He was harassed all night by Davis and Jones and still finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds on 6 of 17 shooting. He left upset, though not overly impressed with Davis, who he’ll certainly see at the next level.
“He’s not Superman,” Robinson said. “He’s just a great player. I don’t mean to be disrespectful by it, but as a competitor I’m not going to sit here and give all my praise to someone I go up against.”
Kansas lost four of its top five scorers off last year’s roster. There were times early in the season when coach Bill Self and his old buddy and mentor, Larry Brown, would stand around at practices and wonder if this was a team that could even make the tournament. It did. Won its eighth straight conference title, too.
“Nobody even expected us to be here in the first place, for us to have a great season,” KU guard Travis Releford said. “And we did. We were able to compete for a championship. We had a great year.”