The Kentucky Wildcats finished off an epic college basketball season with the university’s 8th National Title. A 67-59 victory over the Kansas Jayhawks. The game culminated a season that had Kentucky at the top of the standings all year, and everyone just waiting for them to fall. As many favorites have fallen in the past, surely Coach John Calipari and a bunch of Freshmen/Sophomores wouldn’t be able to finish the deal. Lo and behold, there they were on the big stage. This Kentucky team stood above all others, held the trophy high and proved they deserved to be called one of the best ever.
Kansas had a rocky road all season. Early predictions had them finishing 3rd in the Big 12, and the Jayhawks did themselves no favors with some bad losses. Lackluster wins weren’t sexy enough and Kansas was thought of as good, but not top tier like UK and North Carolina. After its Big 12 tournament loss to Baylor, the Jayhawks were looking at a similar NCAA tournament fate. High ranking, poor showing, gone too soon. Something happened along the way. Or, to say properly, didn’t happen. They didn’t lose, until last night.
Coach Bill Self, All American Thomas Robinson and company fought hard and kept winning games. The early round game against Purdue were the type to disrupt a Kansas season in recent NCAA tournament trips. Survive and advance they did, and there they stood in New Orleans with a chance to bring a title back to Lawrence, Kansas. Going back to the 1950’s when Wilt Chamberlain won a National Title, college hoops has been king in Kansas. They also have football and other sports, but it’s basketball that has built the reputation of this institution. Danny Manning leading his teammates to a title in 1988, and Mario Chalmers stuck a dagger in Coach John Calipari’s Memphis team just a few years ago, when Kansas won in 2008. If any team could knock Kentucky off their perch, why not these Jayhawks? They’ve been down all tournament, notably in the NCAA Final Four, storming back from double digits to take down Ohio State and earn their finals berth. The Jayhawks never quit and would fight till the end. This time it wasn’t enough.
Freshmen All-Everything, Anthony Davis, and the Kentucky Wildcats brought a championship back to the Commonwealth. Davis did all you would want a team leader to do during the Final Four weekend. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear that he washed the team uniforms, made breakfast and sold pretzels at the Superdome. He was all over the place this weekend. On Saturday, Davis shot7-8 from the field and added four more points from the foul line, pacing the Cats offense in its win over rival Louisville. Then in the finals he adjusted his game to the other facets of basketball.
Leading the way with 16 rebounds, 6 blocks, 3 steals and 6 points. There is not a stat for shots he adjusted, with the biggest one as the Jayhawks made their late charge. Jumping out on Jayhawk Elijah Johnson just as he was getting ready to shoot a three, possibly bringing the Kentucky lead to one possession. Turnover forced, and Kentucky had seemed to find the final piece of the puzzle. Davis is well deserving of all the awards he has won, and he swept all the majors. His talent is overshadowed by his commitment to the team. Sprinting up and down the court, making plays for his teammates and never demanding the attention.
By no stretch of the imagination was the game a one man show from Lexington. Coach John Calipari sold his players on the “team” concept and utilized them to the best of their abilities. Senior leadership from Darius Miller, Sophomores with a season under his belt Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones and trio of freshmen with plenty of talent to go around, Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and George Teague. What more could a coach want. On paper, Calipari had more talent, John Wall and Demarcus Cousins were top draft picks, but this Kentucky krew had the intangibles needed and they followed through. Coach Calipari has won his title and is removed from conversation of “best coach not to win a title”. Whether the NCAA book acknowledge his previous Final Four visits or not, he’s been there and wasn’t able to finish the job. It was Kansas coach Bill Self and his team denying Calipari with a late game surge just four years ago.
Kentucky and Calipari have exorcised their demons. They got retribution on Indiana from the early season loss. Knocked off in-state rival Louisville to claim state bragging rights. And there was Calipari, Davis and CBS announcer Jim Nantz at the end of it all, streamers falling from the Dome sky hoping the night wouldn’t end. On this night, even though Kentucky almost made one too many mistakes, there was no last second game tying jumper, no missed free throws to haunt them, just solid play and a NCAA title to bring back to the Big Blue Nation. It’s been 14 years since the last time Kentucky won it all, so the Kentucky fans have been witness to a lot of heartbreak. The tough years with Tubby after their title, the debacle of Billy Gillespie and unfulfilled expectations of Calipari’s first few seasons. He got the talent, but there’s more to the game than that.
The streets of Lexington were filled with revelers and Kentucky alumni all over the world hugged people they didn’t know. 14 years is a long time to wait, Big Blue Nation hopes it doesn’t take that long again. For this season has been a success to surpass many others. Coach Calipari, Anthony Davis deserve all the applause, since they stood there all season as critics waited to denounce them, but they never got the chance. Soon enough, students will set up tents, to be the first to see the next great Kentucky team. Only six more months until Midnight Madness and start this cycle all over again. Basketball in Kentucky, none better this year. Congratulations Wildcats!
Get more great sports news and analysis over at Class Act Sports.