NEW ORLEANS - Impressive freshman Anthony Davis struggled to find the hoop but proved dominant in other phases of the game to lead Kentucky to an eighth national basketball championship with a 67-59 victory over Kansas on Monday.
Davis has been brilliant all season and despite connecting on just one-of-10 shots, the tournament drawcard had 16 rebounds, six blocks and five assists to power the Wildcats to their first title since 1998.
|Kentucky Wildcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (L) falls while driving to the net on Kansas Jayhawks center Jeff Withey (5) and guard Elijah Johnson during the first half of their men's NCAA Final Four championship college basketball game in New Orleans, Louisiana, April 2, 2012. Photo by Jeff Haynes, Reuters.
"It's not hard to take a backseat, especially when playing with a great group of guys," said Davis, who remained scoreless when the Wildcats reached halftime with a 41-27 lead.
"All these guys could play. I knew I was struggling. So I told them, 'I'm going to defend and rebound, you all make all the points.' That's what they did tonight."
Kentucky (38-2) dominated the first half but had to weather a late Kansas rally that cut the advantage to 62-57 on two free throws by Thomas Robinson with 1:37 left.
However, the Wildcats hit five of seven free throws down the stretch to seal the triumph and delight the largely blue-and- white-clad, pro-Kentucky crowd at the Louisiana Superdome.
With Davis scoring just six points, guard Doron Lamb picked up the slack with 22 points on seven of 12 shooting. Marquis Teague added 14 and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 11.
Kentucky coach John Calipari was subdued despite winning his first national title in his fourth Final Four appearance with three different schools.
"I'm glad it's done," said Calipari, who has compiled a staggering 102-14 record since arriving in Lexington three years ago.
"Now I can get about my business of coaching basketball and getting these players to be the best that they can be, helping young people create better lives for themselves and their families.
"And also helping them prepare for life after basketball."
|Kentucky Wildcats forward Anthony Davis celebrates as he cuts the net after the Wildcats defeated the Kansas Jayhawks in the men's NCAA Final Four championship college basketball game in New Orleans, Louisiana, April 2, 2012. Photo by Jeff Haynes, Reuters.
Kansas (32-7) had problems in their four previous tournament games but found a way to win each time. On Monday, the magic ran out.
"We been fighting all year, man," said Jayhawks senior guard Tyshawn Taylor, who paced Kansas with 19 points. "We're hard working guys. Just tough and want to fight.
"It sucks that we have to be down 14 before we want to start fighting. Guess that's kind of what happened. The fight never stops with us. We were right there. Right there.
"But they're a great team. Played their hearts out, just like we did. They came out victorious today."
Thomas Robinson scored 18 points and had 17 rebounds but the muscular All-America forward hit only six-of-17 shots. He tipped his hat to Davis, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
"Anthony is a great player," he said. "You see he impacted the game without even scoring today. That's just what he does."
Kentucky have been the nation's best team virtually the entire season, losing only to Indiana and to Vanderbilt in the finals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The Wildcats have three freshmen and two sophomores in the starting line-up and while they could potentially win several more titles, it is likely some will make the jump to the NBA early.
"This team deserves all the accolades that they've been getting," Calipari said. "And what I wanted them to show today is that we were not just a talented team, we were a defensive team, and we were a team that shared the ball.
"I told them I wanted this to be one for the ages. Go out there and show everyone what kind of team you are, even though we were young.
"It doesn't matter how young you are, it's how you play together."