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Kentucky one-times it for eighth NCAA title

The Wildcats' band of single-season sensations stops on the way to the NBA long enough to win Coach John Calipari his first championship with a 67-59 victory over the Kansas Jayhawks.

April 02, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Kentucky players celebrate after defeating Kansas, 67-59, in the NCAA tournament championship game on Monday night at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Kentucky players celebrate after defeating Kansas, 67-59, in the NCAA… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )

NEW ORLEANS -- No one hit a jumper to send the game to overtime, or called a timeout his team didn't have, or put a missed airball in the basket to win the national title.

Sometimes the experts are right and serendipity gets dunked.

Kentucky won its eighth NCAA basketball championship Monday night with a 67-59 victory over Kansas before a crowd of 70,913 at the Superdome.

Photos: Kansas vs. Kentucky

There are outcomes that leave you chewing your nails. This press release could have been released Sunday night.

The shocker would have been if Lexington had lost.

Victory was almost a relief.

"I'm glad it's done," Kentucky Coach John Calipari said after claiming his first national title. "I don't have to hear he drama. I can just coach now. I don't have to worry."

At least not until the start of camp in October.

Give Kansas credit for keeping viewers tuned in by trimming a seemingly insurmountable lead to five points with 1:37 left.

This wasn't, however, a nightmare flashback to 2008, when Calipari's Memphis team blew a late lead to Kansas and lost the title game in overtime.

Kansas Coach Bill Self called his team together at the under-four-minute timeout and said, "We were down nine with two minutes left in '08, we got plenty of time."

This was finally Calipari's time, though, and all the oddsmakers and watch makers knew it.

Call this victory "Calipari coronation," or vindication for the "one-and-done" meat-market philosophy that espouses chasing today's titles now with tomorrow's NBA players.

Kentucky won by starting three freshmen and two sophomores and, to win another title, will probably have to start from Wildcat scratch.

Kentucky fans might dub this title: "It's about time."

Fourteen years between titles causes them to break out in a rash.

Everyone can now party like it's 1998, the year Tubby Smith led Bluegrass Nation to the championship over Utah.

Kentucky (38-2) did not set out to provide huggable, feel-good moments for anyone outside its inner circle. This was a basketball machine that was built to win, and did.

"That's why we came here," freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer said, "to finally get it done."

It would have been nice had more people from Kentucky been involved, but this program's primary purpose is hanging banners.

Calipari, the coach, is from Moon, Pa. None of his five starters are from the state -- anyone have a problem with that?

National title No. 8 means Kentucky is only three behind UCLA's record of 11.

Kentucky had the best players and, most times, that's enough.

Kentucky led by as many as 18 points late in the first half.

Grizzled veteran guard Doron Lamb (a sophomore) led the Wildcats with 22 points. Freshman guard Marquis Teague added 14.

Tyshawn Taylor's 22 points led Kansas, which ends the season at 32-7.

The only flummoxing stat was Kentucky's winning without a basket from Anthony Davis, the national player of the year, until 5:14 remained. Davis missed nine of 10 shot attempts, but did have 16 rebounds, five assists and six blocked shots.

Give credit to Kansas' 7-foot center, Jeff Withey, for obstructing Davis' vision.

"He's a great player and great players are going to make other great players struggle," Davis said of Withey.

It appeared Davis might record a triple-double without scoring a point. He finished with six.

"I just told my teammates I was going to defend," Davis said." I let my teammates do all the scoring and I just focused on defending."

Kentucky might have been booed off the court had it fallen short with a cast of future NBA stars.

You sensed general crowd uneasiness when Kansas had the nerve to cut the deficit to mid-single digits.

Kansas had the ball, down by six, when it raced down court, only to lose possession with 23 seconds left when Elijah Johnson was called for traveling.

The Wildcats upped the lead to eight on two Lamb free throws, at which point Self gave the "it's over" signal.

"The fight never stops with us guys," Taylor said. "We were right there. We were right there."

Not as close, though, as he thought.

Calipari said he wasn't worried about his legacy, but he actually needed this win like a fish needs water.

He can sleep comfortably until he subs out this lineup for a fresh one and starts the circle-of-hoops-life process over in the fall.

Calipari's career can now be put in a new and improved context. Some will always question his practices and motives. Two of the teams he led to the Final Four, Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008, later had to vacate the appearances because of NCAA violations.

This title, most assume, will hold up.

You knew it was Lawrence lights-out for Kansas when Kentucky dominated early even though Davis failed to score a point in the first half -- and the Wildcats still led by 14.

Davis is a unique player because his impact on the game has always been more than scoring points, although one or two per half would be nice.

"You're the best player in the building, so don't worry," Calipari said he told Davis.

Davis finally rattled home his first point, on a free throw, with 15:30 left in the game. He missed the second. He was 0 for 7 from the field at that point and, yet, Kentucky was cruising.

Kansas fans got excited when their team cut the lead to 10 in the second half, and then five.

Instead of a fourth national title, though, Kansas tied Duke for most title-game defeats at six.

Kentucky did what it came to do. It did a number on Kansas. It was No. 8.

It was the Wildcats' time, even if it wasn't that wild.

Photos: Kansas vs. Kentucky

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