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John Calipari wins the big one

Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats

Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats smiles during the post game news conference after the Wildcats 67-59 victory against the Kansas Jayhawks. (April 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Maybe when John Calipari has a moment alone in front of his mirror, he'll indulge the urge to shout, "I did it! I won an NCAA title! Let the critics eat crow!"

But after finally breaking through to the winner's circle in his fourth trip to the Final Four, Calipari said his emotion was no emotion. Mainly, he felt tired after coaching Kentucky to its 67-59 triumph over Kansas for the national championship Monday night at the Superdome.

Maybe the fatigue he felt was a result of a Kansas comeback that reduced a 16-point Wildcats lead to five with 1:37 left to play. Or maybe it was simply that Calipari finally is able to exhale after a coaching journey in which he took No. 1 UMass to the Final Four in 1996 and lost in the semifinals and No. 1 Memphis to the championship game in 2008 and blew a nine-point lead late to Kansas and coach Bill Self, who was at the opposite end of the floor again Monday.

Both of those Final Four trips were vacated because of recruiting violations at the schools Calipari left behind. Those endings only fueled Calipari's critics. But if the Kentucky coach felt like he was always running from the posse out to get him, he can rest now.

"I told my wife, 'I'm glad it's done,'" Calipari said. "Now I can get about my business of coaching basketball…I can get on with that. I don't have to hear the drama. I can just coach now. I don't have to worry.

"If you want to know the truth, it's almost like, 'Done. Let me move on.'"

Of course, Calipari already was anticipating what the perception of this team will be. He expressed the belief that his six top players, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague and Darius Miller, all could be first-round draft picks. Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Teague all are freshmen who could be one-and-done if they enter the NBA draft.

So, some might say Calipari simply recruited the best team. Making a pre-emptive strike at that train of thought, Calipari said, "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 wanted everybody to see it because it became, 'They're more talented than everybody.'

"We were the best team this season. The most efficient team. We 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."

The Wildcats certainly proved themselves against a hard-nosed Kansas team that made sure they had to work for it. Lamb (22 points), Teague (14) and Kidd-Gilchrist (11) were great in transition and shot well from outside. Davis and Jones did a good job double-teaming Kansas star Thomas Robinson, making him shoot 6 for 17 to get his 18 points, and they made the Jayhawks, who shot 35.5 percent, miss time and time again on attempts close to the rim.

The Jayhawks marveled at the impact Davis had with 16 rebounds and six blocked shots despite scoring only six points on 1-of-10 shooting. Self said he was hoping his team could get close enough at the end that the pressure suddenly would shift to Kentucky, but they never could make it a one-possession game.

"They've done a fabulous job coaching their team," Self said of Calipari's staff. "They share, they like each other, and they certainly defend. They're playing with pros. That didn't hurt, either. But they've done a great, great job coaching their team. I don't think their staff gets the credit that they deserve on how well they coach because they're so talented."

Maybe that changes now for Calipari.
 

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