Kentucky has constantly been described as a team that's in a league of their own. After the way they man-handled the Kansas Jayhawks, I would say it's a deserving assessment.
Head coach John Calipari won his first title–the 8th for Kentucky, and first since 1998–in the 67-59 win against Bill Self's Kansas team on Monday night.
It was obvious who the best team was on the floor from the get-go. Kentucky raced off to a quick start in the first half, shooting 16-of-30 from the field and extending the lead to 14 by half time. In fact, the only time the Wildcats even saw a glimpse of possibly being challenged came with only minutes remaining in regulation.
Kansas' junior forward Thomas Robinson and senior guard Tyshawn Taylor attempted to lead another typical Jayhawk late second-half comeback, cutting the lead to five with under two minutes to go. But Anthony Davis and his Kentucky squad remained poised to keep the 'hawks grounded.
With the lead at six, the Jayhawks found Johnson wide open in the corner for a 3-pointer. When Johnson lifted to shoot, Davis lunged forward–in what would have been a sure block–forcing Johnson to come back down with the ball, resulting in a travel. It would be the last opportunity for Kansas to truly close the lead, and it was to no one's surprise that it was Davis that had everything to do with it.
While only recording six points, Davis became only the 4th freshman to win the Men's Final Four Most Outstanding Player Award. The assumed upcoming number one overall NBA draft pick didn't see his shots fall, but the award is inarguably most deserving after seeing the rest of his eye-popping stat line: 16 rebounds, 6 blocks, 5 assists and 3 steals. A true once-in-a-lifetime force on the floor.
"Well, it's not me, it's these guys behind me," Davis said after his 1-for-10 shooting 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."
Two additional players on the Wildcats squad sure to go in the first round of the draft, Marquis Teague added 14 points for Kentucky, while Terrence Jones dropped nine points and seven boards in the championship game.
"We've got a lot of great players on this team," Teague said. "Other players stepped up and made plays. He had confidence in us to make plays and that's what we tried to do."
As for Kansas, Robinson finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds, while Taylor finished with 19 points. The pair led a group of players, that for the most part, have never performed on such a large stage. Their 2012 team only had one of their top five scorers from last year.
It was an over-achieving Jayhawk team that played their hearts out, but couldn't overpower an obviously more dominant Kentucky team.
"We came up short, but I don't think we lost. I think they just beat us," Self said.
The Wildcats are only the 6th team in the past 30 years to win the tournament as the No. 1 ranked team in the country, and the first since Duke in 2001. Having been to three previous Final Fours with two other teams alongside Kentucky, Calipari acknowledged the 2012 Wildcats are something special.
"I don't know of any team that has sacrificed for each other like this team and they deserve this moment, they really do," Calipari said.
Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS