NEW ORLEANS -- If you think about it, the most important baskets in the NCAA national semifinal between Kentucky and Louisville on Saturday night at the Superdome might very well be the ones that get swatted away before they reach the hoop. That was the logic voters used in naming Wildcats center Anthony Davis as winner of The Associated Press player of the year award Friday, and Cardinals center Gorgui Dieng is almost as formidable an obstacle under his team's basket.

Although Davis leads Kentucky with 14.3 points per game, that is the lowest ever for a player of the year. What really impressed voters was the fact that he ranked only fourth on the Wildcats in shots attempted, shot 64.2 percent from the field and averaged 10.0 rebounds and 4.6 blocked shots. He became only the second freshman to win the award, joining Kevin Durant of Texas in 2007.

"I wasn't planning on any awards," Davis said. "I have to thank my teammates for those lob passes for easy baskets and for them getting beat off the dribble for all those blocked shots. Without them, there are no awards."

As much as Kentucky coach John Calipari and Louisville coach Rick Pitino stress defense, the key is having a big eraser protecting the rim and covering up mistakes, as Davis suggested. He is projected as the likely No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, but he didn't even become one of the top recruits in the nation until a growth spurt at the end of his junior season in high school changed his life.

"I grew from 6-3 to 6-10 before my senior year in high school," Davis said. "That's when I really started blocking shots. It affects the game very much. Guys don't really drive the lane anymore. If they do, they know they have to shoot over me or alter their shots."

Pitino is known for his pressing style of defense, but his backstop is the 6-11, 235-pound Dieng, a native of Senegal who was playing at a prep school in West Virginia when Pitino found him while recruiting another player.

"Coach P changed my whole mentality," Dieng said. "I wasn't strong enough to play center, but he changed my whole body. I gained a lot of weight. He changed my game. He told me, 'It's all going to start on defense. Don't worry about offense.' "

Sounds like players on both sides are going to have to deal with rejection.


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months