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
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
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
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.