Kentucky’s defense comes up big against Louisville

The highlight packages will be full of Anthony Davis’ one-handed

jam off an alley-oop pass and a couple of his hook shots –

including one with his non-shooting hand – but what got Kentucky to

its 11th national championship game was defense.

A lot of defense.

The Wildcats didn’t break the 80-point mark as they did in their

first four NCAA tournament games – the first team to do that since

Kentucky won its last title in 1998 – but they stopped Louisville

whenever they had to in their 69-61 victory Saturday night.

Kentucky (37-2) held the Cardinals to 34.8 percent shooting (24

for 69), well below their season mark of 42.5, but even more

importantly, it was below the 37.5 percent the Wildcats allowed all

season – a mark that led the nation.

And it was Davis, the 6-foot-10 freshman who was the national

Player of the Year, leading the way with five of Kentucky’s seven

blocked shots while altering several others as he did all season in

being named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the

Year.

The defense was at its best late after Louisville (30-10) had

whittled a 13-point deficit to 53-51 with 7:34 to play. The

Cardinals missed their next nine shots as Kentucky opened the lead

to 60-51 with 4:29 to go.

”We had teams come at us all year like that,” Kentucky coach

John Calipari said. ”They responded each time the way they did

today.”

Despite being outrebounded 40-33, including 19-6 on the

offensive end, Kentucky played the defense that had it at No. 1 for

10 weeks this season and earned the Wildcats the overall No. 1 seed

in the tournament.

And it was Davis leading the way – and he earned the highest

praise a center can receive.

”When you’re playing against Bill Russell at the pro level, you

realize why the Celtics won 11 world championships,” Louisville

coach Rick Pitino said in comparing Davis to the Boston Celtics

great who is considered the best defensive big man of all time.

”When you see this young man at the collegiate level, you realize

why they’re so good. Not that their other players aren’t, but he’s

so much of a factor.”

Calipari made it sound like just another game from his phenom,

who is expected to be the overall No. 1 pick in the NBA draft if he

decides to leave after his freshman season.

”He did what he’s done all year,” Calipari said. ”He blocked

four, five shots. The greatest thing, though, is that his teammates

make him better and he makes his teammates better. That’s how he’s

been.”

Davis came into the Final Four with a school-record 175 blocks,

a number that already has him fifth on Kentucky’s career list.

It took the Cardinals and Gorgui Dieng, their young center, a

while to adjust to what Davis was doing on the defensive end.

”Anthony Davis is very impressive because he alters. His length

is incredible,” Pitino said. ”Not till the end did Gorgui block

him out. That’s what you’ve got to do with him, you’ve got to block

him out to keep him away from the basket.”

Davis’ aggressive way inside was what allowed Louisville to get

offensive rebounds, but the Cardinals weren’t able to convert into

more than 13 second-chance points.

”You can get second-chance opportunities against shot blockers

because when he goes, he’s going to leave his man,” Pitino said.

”But then you have to either throw it out and get an easy shot or

you have to finish. We didn’t finish inside. We kept missing

inside. Sometimes when you go against a shot-blocker, there’s a lot

of offensive opportunities to rebound.”

The Wildcats will face Kansas for the national title on Monday

night after the Jayhawks rallied from a 13-point deficit to beat

Ohio State 64-62.