NEW ORLEANS – Kentucky was supposed to have the more talent and Kansas was supposed to have the more heart, but as it turned out in Monday night’s NCAA championship game Kentucky actually had more of both.
Though they have six sure-fire pros, the Wildcats showed they would not be out-worked by the upstart Jayhawks. National Player of the Year Anthony Davis threw his body after every rebound and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist crash-dived into crowds on drive after drive as Kentucky refused to yield its rite to a coronation and coach John Calipari’s first national championship, a 67-59 triumph before 70,913 at the Superdome.
Kentucky (38-2) has been arguably the best team in the land the entire season – never ranked nationally lower than third – and now there can be no doubts. The ’Cats are champions for the eighth time and first since 1998.
Calipari now has a crowning achievement in an illustrious but controversial career. His first two trips to the Final Four were vacated for NCAA transgressions, but in his fourth trip he finally reached his sport’s summit. And in getting there he avenged his most-painful defeat, when Kansas and coach Bill Self rallied late to beat his Memphis club in the 2008 title game.
Kansas (32-7) did show plenty of the heart that made its reputation and got it to the title game. Down 18 in the first half and 16 in the second after Doron Lamb, out of Queens, made a pair of dagger three-pointers midway through the half, had another strong late charge in it. All-American Thomas Robinson made a pair of free throws with 1:37 left to cap a 13-3 run and get the Jayhawks within 62-57.
On the other end Terrence Jones snared a loose ball headed out of bounds, drove for the basket and fed Davis, who was fouled and made a free throw. Kansas had a chance to cut further into the margin, but Kidd-Gilchrist turned away Tyshawn Taylor’s attempted reverse layup to end the possession and send the Jayhawks into fouling mode. Kentucky made XX of Xx at the line down the stretch.
Lamb had 20 points, Marquis Teague 12 points and Kidd-Gilchrist 11 points for the Wildcats. Davis did not have a good offensive game with only six points on 1-for-10 shooting but still was a difference-maker with a team high 15 boards and five assists.
Taylor, out of Jersey City’s St. Anthony High, had 19 points and Robinson 18 for Kansas.