WON AND DONE: NBA-ready Wildcats prove worthy of hype, repel Kansas for title

NEW ORLEANS — One and done, indeed. Maybe even over and out.

All that really matters is that Kentucky parlayed a roster full of NBA-caliber talent into a 67-59 victory over Kansas on Monday night for the team’s eighth national NCAA basketball title — its first since 1998.

John Calipari coached this title team to a convincing victory — a little dicey at the end — to cap a season that cried for no less than a championship for their ol’ Kentucky home.

"I wanted everybody to see, we were the best team this season," said the coach who finally has the championship that eluded him for all these years. "We were the best team. I wanted this to be one for the ages."

Doron Lamb, a sophomore with NBA first-round possibilities, led the Wildcats (38-2) with 22 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers that put them up by 16 with 10 minutes left.

The Jayhawks (32-7), kings of the comeback all season, fought to the finish and trimmed that deficit to five with 1:37 left. But Kentucky made five free throws down the stretch to seal the win.

Anthony Davis’ fellow NBA lottery prospect, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, was another headliner, creating space for himself to score all 11 of his points in the first half.

Davis, meanwhile, might have had the most dominant six-point night in college basketball history, earning the nod as the Most Outstanding Player. He finished with 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and three steals — and made his only field goal with 5:13 to play. It was a surefire illustration of how the 6-foot-10-inch freshman can exert his will on a game, even when the shot isn’t falling.

"Well, it’s not me, it’s these guys behind me," Davis said after his 1-for-10 performance. "They led us this whole tournament. This whole game I was struggling offensively, and I told my team, every time down, you all score the ball; I’m just gonna defend and rebound."

So much easier when you’ve got teammates like this. Davis is the likely first pick in the draft, though he said he hasn’t decided yet whether he will leave Kentucky, and Kidd-Gilchrist won’t be far behind. Another first-round prospect, freshman Marquis Teague, had 14 points. And yet another, sophomore Terrence Jones, had nine points, seven rebounds and two of Kentucky’s 11 blocked shots.

"I love the fact AD goes 1-for-10, and you all say he was the biggest factor of game," Calipari said. "He was 1-for-10. I asked these guys what they would do without scoring. You have an idea what he does."

Kansas also has a lottery pick in All-American forward Thomas Robinson. He was harassed all night by Davis and Jones and finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds on 6-for-17 shooting. He left upset, though not overly impressed by Davis, who he’ll certainly see in "the association" over the next several years.

"He’s not Superman," Robinson said. "He’s just a great player. I don’t mean to be disrespectful by it, but as a competitor, I’m not going to sit here and give all my praise to someone I go up against."

Calipari avenged a final-game loss to Bill Self back in 2008, when Calipari was coaching Memphis. The Tigers missed four free throws in blowing a nine-point lead in that one. Kansas didn’t get any such help this time.

Even so, it wasn’t a bad season in Lawrence, considering where KU began.

Kansas lost four of its top five scorers from last year. There were times early in the season when Self and his old buddy and mentor, Larry Brown, would stand around at practices and wonder if this was a team that could even make the tournament. It did. Won its eighth straight Big 12 Conference title, too.

"Nobody even expected us to be here in the first place, for us to have a great season," Kansas guard Travis Releford said. "And we did. We were able to compete for a championship. We had a great year."

None of this, however, was for the faint of heart. The Jayhawks trailed by double digits in three of their five tournament games leading to the final and played every game down to the wire. They fell behind by 18 late in the first half of this one, and this time, there was no big comeback to be made; not against a team as talented as the Wildcats.

"We knew coming in that we had been in situations like that before," Releford said. "We played like that all year. We figured we’d come out in the second half and run how we did. It just wasn’t good enough."

Davis realized early this was no shoot-first night for him at the Superdome, and Calipari all but told him to cool it at halftime.

"I said, ‘Listen to me, don’t you go out there and try to score,’ " the coach said.

Davis listened. Sporting his near-unibrow, which the UK Wildcat mascot also decided to paste on, he endured the worst shooting night of a short college career in which he made 64 percent of his shots. No big deal. He set the tone early on defense, swatting Robinson’s shot twice, grabbing rebounds, making pretty bounce passes for assists.

Early in the second half, he made a steal that also could have been an assist, knocking the ball out of Robinson’s hands and directly to Jones, who dunked for a 46-30 lead.

Then, finally, Davis made his only basket. With 5:13 left, he spotted up for a 15-foot jumper from the baseline that swished for a 59-44 lead, putting a dagger in one of Kansas’ many comebacks.

"He was terrific," Self said. "The basket he made was one of the biggest baskets of the game."

The crowd, a little more full of Kentucky fans than Kansas, went crazy. If this guy only stays one year and only makes one shot, they’re fine with that.

It’s the new normal at Kentucky, where Adolph Rupp set a standard, Rick Pitino lived up to it for a while, then Calipari — hardly the buttoned-down type — was hired to bring back the glory.

He goes for the best players, no matter what their long-term goals.

Normally, the prospect of losing all those players in one swoop would have people thinking about a tough rebuilding year. But Calipari has mastered the art of rebuilding on the fly.

When it was over, all that Kentucky talent ran to the corner of the court, got in a group huddle and jumped up and down like the kids they really are. Will Calipari coach any of them again?

"What I’m hoping is there are six first-rounders on this team," the coach said. "I’m fine with that. That’s why I’ve got to go recruiting on Friday."

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