Kentucky beats Kansas for NCAA championship
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NEW ORLEANS -- For 35 minutes, No. 1 Kentucky was just as dominant as it had been all season despite the fact that national player of the year Anthony Davis was in the midst of a six-point night and saving his best work for the defensive end. But when Kansas' Tyshawn Taylor hit a three-pointer and converted a three-point play to cut the lead to nine with 4:17 left, it was impossible not to believe a little voodoo might be in the air at the Superdome.
Kansas had been the "Team That Won't Go Away'' throughout the NCAA Tournament. As one courtside Jayhawks fan yelled, "Here we come!''
But it turned out New Orleans was the place Kentucky coach John Calipari came to exorcise his demons. The Wildcats let Kansas get within five with 1:37 left but held on for a 67-59 victory in front of a crowd of 70,913 Monday night to give Calipari his first championship in four trips to the Final Four with three schools.
The NCAA title is the eighth for Kentucky (38-2). Kansas (32-7) made a late 13-3 run to close to 62-57 on two free throws by Thomas Robinson, but that was as close as it could get.
Asked about the key to the momentous win, Calipari said, "They did it with defense, unbelievable defense. You've got to give Kansas credit. They didn't stop.''
Queens native Doron Lamb led Kentucky with 22 points, going 3-for-6 from three-point range. "New York City kid,'' Kentucky assistant coach Orlando Antigua said. "A big stage, the bright lights. He worked, and he earned himself the opportunity to be in that position.''
Marquis Teague added 14 and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 11. Davis had 16 rebounds, five assists and six blocked shots.
Taylor topped the Jayhawks with 19 points, Robinson had 18 points and 17 rebounds, and Elijah Johnson totaled 13 points.
Despite his low scoring output in the final, Davis was named the tournament's outstanding player. That was fitting considering how difficult his presence made it for Kansas, which shot 35.5 percent and was outrebounded 43-35. "I told my team, 'Y'all score the ball. I'm going to defend and rebound,' '' Davis said. "Kansas is a great team. They've been in this situation. They know how to come back, and that's what they did tonight.''
The game was a rematch of a Nov. 15 meeting won by Kentucky, 75-65, at Madison Square Garden. That game was little more than an afterthought to the game that preceded it that night, a Duke win over Michigan State that moved Mike Krzyzewski into first on the all-time wins list. But Monday night, the two winningest programs in collegiate history owned the biggest stage.
This game started more like the Kentucky Derby as Wildcats guards Lamb and Teague led a high-speed transition game designed to get to the basket before 7-foot Kansas center Jeff Withey could get back to protect the rim. Robinson struggled inside against double-team defense by Terrence Jones and Davis.
Midway through the opening half, the Wildcats forced the Jayhawks into a 3-for-15 shooting stretch, and Kentucky converted on the offensive end to produce a 20-7 run for its biggest lead of the half at 39-21.
At halftime, the Wildcats held a comfortable 41-27 margin without getting a single point from Davis, who had nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
In the second half, Kansas got within 11, only to see Kentucky push its lead to 54-38 on two textbook-form three-pointers by Lamb. The Jayhawks came back from a 19-point deficit to beat Missouri during the regular season, but their fighting spirit was not enough to overcome a team as good as Kentucky.