Kentucky-Louisville: State rivals in Final Four

Think Kentucky vs. Louisville is a big deal during the regular

season?

Try the Final Four.

Top-seeded Kentucky set up a Bluegrass showdown in the bayou on

Sunday, romping past Baylor 82-70 in the South Regional final. The

Wildcats took control with a 16-0 run in the first half, led by 20

at the break and cruised to their second straight Final Four.

Waiting in New Orleans: their rival from the hoops-crazed

state.

Louisville had already won its regional, then watched as

Kentucky completed the most important matchup ever between schools

that are about 65 miles apart. They meet annually during the

regular season – the Wildcats won 69-62 on New Year’s Eve – and

have played four times in the NCAA tournament.

But never in the Final Four.

”We know it’s going to be a great game,” Kentucky’s Darius

Miller said.

That would be a contrast from the win over Baylor – a very good

team with a daring fashion sense that was simply no match for coach

John Calipari’s latest group of Fab Freshmen. Trailing 42-22 at

halftime, the Bears never got closer than 10 the rest of the way,

and that was long after Kentucky had taken its foot off the

accelerator.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 19 points, Anthony Davis added 18

points and 11 rebounds, and Terrence Jones dazzled in all the

overlooked areas: rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

”This team is better than I thought,” Baylor coach Scott Drew

said. ”This is the best team we faced all year … probably in a

couple of years.”

Two years ago, the bears lost to eventual national champion Duke

in another regional final.

”Duke was a good team,” Drew said, ”but Kentucky is

better.”

Now, the Wildcats (36-2) move on to the national semifinals

Saturday to face Louisville.

Calipari planned to tell his team not to listen to all the hype.

The Wildcats have their sights on a national title, and Louisville

is merely a roadblock on the way to that goal.

”I’ll tell them to get off the message boards, get off Twitter

and Facebook,” he said. ”Don’t buy into it. We’re going to New

Orleans to play a basketball game. Forget about this tournament.

Let’s go be as good as we can be as a team.”

But it’s impossible to get away from the extra significance this

game has for both programs.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino led Kentucky to a national title in

1996. Then he left for the NBA, only to the return to the college

ranks at the Wildcats’ rival school, sparking plenty of

animosity.

Calipari, who has been at Kentucky for three seasons, was asked

about his relationship with Pitino.

”It’s fine,” Calipari said. ”I mean, we don’t send each other

Christmas cards. But I see him in public. Or in recruiting, we’ll

spend some time together.”

Kidd-Gilchrist shrugged when someone asked about playing the

Cardinals.

”I’m just worried about us,” he said. ”I don’t worry about

anybody else.”

Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are the latest freshman stars in

Calipari’s one-and-done system, two guys who will likely be off to

the NBA before they really learned their way around campus.

Two years ago, John Wall led Kentucky to the regional final.

Last season, Brandon Knight helped the Wildcats reach the Final

Four. Now, with those guys in the NBA – and Kidd-Gilchrist and

Davis likely to be following shortly – Big Blue is again positioned

to claim its first national title since 1998.

”There are some opinions that will never change,” Calipari

said. ”All I’m trying to do is coach these young people.”

But for all the talk about his freshmen, Calipari is getting

plenty of contributions from those who hung around beyond their

first year. Start with Jones, a sophomore forward who passed up the

draft. He scored just one point in the opening half, but in the end

his fingerprints were all over Kentucky’s dominating performance:

nine rebounds, six assists, three blocks and two steals – most in

the first 10 minutes.

”It’s kind of hard to play us,” Davis said. ”We’re very long

and very athletic. It makes it tough on the other team.”

Quincy Acy led Baylor with 22 points, and Pierre Jackson added

21. Not enough. Not nearly enough.

”They’re a great team,” Acy said. ”They’ve got some good

dudes down there.”

With Baylor’s Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III cheering

from the stands, Acy tried to send an early message early that the

Bears (30-8) would not be intimidated by the Wildcats.

Jones was going in for a fastbreak layup when the 235-pound Acy

came up from behind, took a whack at the ball but mainly just

crashed into the Kentucky player, sending him flying into the

Baylor cheerleaders along the baseline. Jones was OK, and the

officials doled out a flagrant foul on Acy.

The Bears, seemingly inspired by Acy’s bravado, ripped off an

8-0 run that led Calipari to call a quick timeout. He already had

yanked Doron Lamb from the game for trying to make the highlight

reels rather than taking a layup. The sophomore guard passed up a

clear path to the basket, instead opting for a lob pass to the

trailing Davis, who missed the dunk.

After Quincy Miller hit an uncontested 3-pointer from the top of

the lane to give Baylor a 10-5 lead, Calipari lashed into his young

team.

”I told them we’ve got to step on the gas here,” he said.

Boy, did they ever. Sixteen consecutive points, an NBA-like

display of defensive dominance and easy baskets that sent the

Georgia Dome, and the predominantly blue-clad crowd, into a

frenzy.

They might as well have cut down the nets right then.

”It’s a great feeling to be part of something special,” Davis

said.

Kentucky’s only serious scare came early in the second half when

Davis went down with an injured left knee. The 6-foot-10 freshman

was driving to the basket when he banged into Baylor’s Perry Jones

III, going down hard along the baseline. A hush fell over the

massive stadium as Davis, writhing in pain, grabbed at his

knee.

Finally, he limped to the bench, but it was clear the injury

wasn’t too serious when the trainers kept flexing the leg, then

rubbed it with an ointment to ease the pain. Just a couple of

minutes later, he was back in the game.

”The knee is doing fine,” Davis said. ”I wasn’t going to sit

out, especially with a trip to the Final Four (one the line). All

of us want to go to the Final Four.”

Louisville will be waiting.

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at

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