Never mind that Anthony Davis couldn’t score a lick.
The rest of his game was simply sublime in Kentucky’s 67-59 victory over Kansas on Monday night that gave the Wildcats their eighth national title.
Davis’ presence in the lane forced Kansas to back off and look for other options, none of which were very good. When the Jayhawks did venture inside, he made them pay with ferocious blocks and rebounds.
And though his shots weren’t falling, Davis made sure they did for his teammates, setting them up with quick passes that never missed the mark.
”I love the fact Anthony Davis goes 1 for 10 and you all say he was the biggest factor of the game. He was 1 for 10,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. ”About a month ago, I looked at them all and said, `Tell me what you do to help us win when you’re not scoring.’ You saw today with him.”
Despite finishing with just six points, all but two on free throws, Davis flirted with a double-double. He tied Joakim Noah’s individual record for blocks in the NCAA championship game with six, grabbed 16 rebounds, had five assists and three steals.
If this was the last game at Kentucky for the freshman, widely expected to be the No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA draft, it was a heck of a way to go out. To the surprise of no one, he was selected the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
”I haven’t decided,” Davis said afterward. ”I’m going to sit down, talk with my coach and my family and see what the best decision is for me.”
As the final seconds ticked down, cheers of ”M-V-P!” echoed throughout the arena. And as the buzzer sounded, Davis finally showed off the personality that is sure to make him a megastar at the next level. Grabbing a national champions T-shirt and hat with ”NO-1 Greater” on the front, Davis quickly put them on and strolled over to the Kentucky fans, pointing at the court as he did Saturday night.
No screams of ”This is my stage!” on this night, though. Everybody, from the Kentucky fans to the Kansas players, already knew it.
”It’s not hard to take a backseat, especially playing with a great group of guys,” Davis said. ”I knew I was struggling. So I told them, `I’m going to defend and rebound. You all make all the points.’ That’s what they did tonight.”
Standing tall on the podium for the trophy presentation, Davis repeatedly turned to the Kentucky cheering section, waving his long arms and urging fans to show the Wildcats even more love.
About the only one immune to Davis’ charm was Kansas All-American Thomas Robinson, though even he had to grudgingly acknowledge that Davis is pretty darn good.
”A lot of times, I tried to go to my left shoulder on (Terrence) Jones, but I would see Anthony over top of him. … He definitely impacted the game with the way he stretched the defense,” Robinson said. ”(But) he’s not superman. 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.”
Davis has loomed large all season, and not simply because he’s 6-foot-10 with a wingspan of a Piper Cub. A guard until a growth spurt, he still has that sweet shot and sixth sense of a smaller player. And despite playing at a Chicago high school that didn’t even have its own gym, Davis seems born for the big stage and bright lights. The 19-year-old plays with the poise and composure of someone a decade older, and he seems completely devoid of any ego.
Whenever he’s gotten an award, and there have been plenty these last few weeks, he’s made sure to thank his teammates, singling out Marquis Teague and all the lobs he has thrown when he accepted The Associated Press player of the year trophy Friday. He’s still speaking to teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist despite his friend waking him up early Monday with loud music and Energizer Bunny-esque energy. He’s even embraced the fascination with his thick eyebrows.
And when Calipari took a little dig at his prized phenom’s shooting struggles, Davis played right along.
”Before we left the locker room (at halftime), I said, `Listen to me, don’t you now go out there and try to score. If you have opportunities, score the ball. If you don’t, don’t worry about it. You were the best player in building, so don’t worry,”’ Calipari said. ”Then he went out and shot the first three balls.”
”I was open,” Davis piped up.
”I know why you were open. You were 1 for 10. They were leaving you open,” Calipari said as Davis grinned.
But it’s Davis’ game that has the real star quality.
He finished the season with 20 double-doubles, seven in his last 10 games. This was only the eighth time this season he failed to crack double figures.
And in the truest sign of a special talent, even when he’s having an ”off” night, as he was Monday, he still finds ways to dominate the game. Having already played Kansas earlier this season, he wasted no time reminding the Jayhawks of what they were in for, crowding Robinson on the Jayhawks’ first few possessions and disrupting the All-American’s shots. Kansas center Jeff Withey, a shot-blocking machine himself, looked like a high school kid beside Davis.
Calipari has raved about his team’s unselfishness all season, usually pointing to Davis as the prime example. With his shots not falling, Davis buckled down on defense and let his teammates take care of the scoring.
”I don’t know of any team that has sacrificed for each other like this team,” Calipari said. ”And they deserve this moment. They really do.”