No. 1 Kentucky 69, No. 17 Louisville 61
Bragging rights in the Bluegrass State are mighty nice.
Kentucky has its sights set higher.
Anthony Davis and top-seeded Kentucky are right where they
planned to be all along, playing for the national title after
finally putting away pesky Louisville 69-61 in the Final Four on
”I have a team that’s had teams come at them all year,” coach
John Calipari said, ”and they responded again today.”
It will be Kentucky’s first appearance in the title game since
winning a seventh NCAA crown back in 1998 and it gives Calipari
another shot at the championship that has eluded him. The Wildcats
(37-2) will face No. 2 seed Kansas, a 64-62 winner over Ohio State
in the second semifinal.
After the game, thousands of fans swarmed into the streets near
the University of Kentucky campus, overturning cars and lighting
couches ablaze. Riot police used pepper spray and 150 officers
deployed on the streets at one point to quell what Lexington police
spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts called ”a very dangerous situation
with the fires and the violence” that dragged on for hours.
Lexington City spokeswoman Susan Straub said police made fewer
than 10 arrests, and a few injuries were reported.
As the final seconds ticked down in New Orleans, Davis pointed
to the court and screamed twice, ”This is my stage!”
Yes, yes, it is.
With a star-studded roster that includes at least three, maybe
as many as five NBA lottery picks, Kentucky was the top seed in the
tournament and the heavy favorite to cut down the nets when the
whole tournament was done. And Calipari wouldn’t let his young
players consider anything else, saying repeatedly this was ”just
But playing in-state rival Louisville (30-10) is never just
that, and the Cardinals made Kentucky work deep into the second
half to grind this victory out.
Louisville outrebounded Kentucky 40-33, including a whopping
19-6 advantage on the offensive glass – the sole reason the
Cardinals were able to make a game of this.
”To tell you the truth, I haven’t always liked some of the
Kentucky teams. I’m not going to lie to you,” said Louisville
coach Rick Pitino, who counts as something of an expert after
spending eight years in Lexington and the last 11 with the
Cardinals. ”But I really like this team a lot because of their
attitude and the way they play.
”I’ll certainly be rooting for them hard to bring the trophy
back to Kentucky. … They’re a great group of guys, doing a
So tremendous it led to a thawing, however briefly, in the
frosty relationship between Calipari and Pitino. When the two shook
hands after the game, Pitino congratulated Calipari and told him
he’d be rooting for the Wildcats on Monday night.
”I think that’s neat,” Calipari said. ”When I was at UMass, I
can remember hugging him and telling him, `I’m happy for you and I
really want you to win the national title.’ He did the same to me
tonight, so I think it’s kind of neat.”
Calipari had taken another phenom-laden roster to the Final Four
last year, only to see them come unglued against eventual national
champion Connecticut. The Wildcats said all week they weren’t going
to let the same thing happen this time, and it showed in their
workmanlike effort. No matter how close Louisville got, the
Cardinals were never able to control the game. When they made a
run, Kentucky found a way to stop it. When one of the Wildcats ran
into foul trouble, the others picked him up.
Kentucky played so hard Davis went flying off the court twice,
sailing all the way onto media row once.
”They made runs, and we made our runs. That’s what coach always
says,” said Terrence Jones, who finished with six points and seven
rebounds. ”We never get rattled.”
Bigger, bulkier and with Davis having a wider wingspan than some
small airplanes, the Wildcats looked like playground bullies as
they pushed Louisville around on their way to a 13-point lead early
in the second half. But the Cardinals know a thing about rallies
after coming from 11 points down to beat Florida in last weekend’s
West Regional final, and they sure made Kentucky sweat.
Russ Smith made back-to-back buckets to start a 15-3 run, and
Peyton Siva capped it with a 3-pointer from NBA range that tied the
game at 49 with 9:11 to play. But Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who
played just 23 minutes because of foul trouble, made back-to-back
buckets to give the Wildcats some breathing room.
After Siva made a pair of free throws, Jones scored on a jumper
and Darius Miller drilled a 3 – only Kentucky’s second of the game
– to give the Wildcats control for good.
”They were the better team today,” Siva said.
Just to make sure Louisville didn’t get any wild notions about
another late comeback, Kidd-Gilchrist threw down a monstrous dunk
with 1:05 to play that had Kentucky fans on their feet and
assistant coaches from Kansas and Ohio State scrambling to try and
find a way to stop this juggernaut.
Kentucky shot a dazzling 57 percent – yes, that’s right – with
Davis leading the way. He missed just one of his eight shots and
finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds, and let his play speak for
itself, not showing any emotion until those closing seconds of the
”Anthony Davis is just the No.1 player in the draft,” Pitino
said of the 19-year-old freshman, who has won just about every
player of the year award there is. ”When you’re playing against
Bill Russell on the pro level, you realize why the Celtics won 11
Miller added 13 points, and Doron Lamb had 10. Kidd-Gilchrist
had nine, all in the second half.
Siva led the Cardinals with 11 points, and Gorgui Dieng had 12
”I told the guys, `Look, I’m going to Miami tomorrow and
celebrating a season where we worked around the clock, around
injuries and everything else. If you guys don’t celebrate and have
good, clean fun, you’re fools,”’ Pitino said.
The Kentucky-Louisville rivalry causes tempers to flare even in
December when, in the grand scheme of things, games really don’t
mean much. Heck, it took government intervention just to get the
two schools to play on a regular basis back in the 1980s.
With the NCAA title game on the line, the latest skirmish in
basketball’s version of the civil war so divided the small
hoop-crazed state that senior citizens actually came to fisticuffs.
But boy, did it make for a great show. The game was such a big deal
that No. 1 Kentucky fan Ashley Judd wasn’t even the biggest celeb
in the house, with Jay-Z taking a prime seat behind the Kentucky
”It’s our fans; our fans are great to us,” Davis said. ”Our
fans travel a long way. We want to go out here and give them a show
and give them what they want, which is a national
The ultimate bragging rights sure are a nice way to start.
Kentucky is 19-11 since the teams resumed playing in 1983-84,
with the Wildcats winning four straight, including a 69-62 victory
at Rupp Arena on Dec. 31 – almost the exact score as Saturday
The Wildcats know they’re talented – there are three, maybe as
many as five NBA lottery picks on the Kentucky roster – but they
play without ego or cockiness, choosing instead to let their
superior play overwhelm their opponents.
The Cardinals had skidded into the Big East tournament with four
losses in their last six games, including back-to-back defeats to
end the regular season. Pitino told his players they could either
go home after the first week of the tournament or they could do
something special – their choice.
The Cardinals chose the latter, ripping off four wins in four
days to win the Big East tournament and ousting No. 1 seed Michigan
State in the West Regional semifinals. Then came that comeback
against rough-and-tumble Florida.
Those games hardened the Cardinals, and they promised they
weren’t simply happy to reach the Final Four. But they sure looked
it early on, getting off to a slow, sloppy start. It didn’t help
that Dieng looked petrified of Davis and Siva was playing at
hyperspeed, a pace Pitino has been trying to get him to tone down
When they tried to go inside, Davis was less forgiving than a
bouncer at a Hollywood club. When the Cardinals went outside, the
Wildcats swarmed and forced them to take off-balance shots.
Meanwhile, on the other end, Kentucky scored at will, repeatedly
picking on Siva and Dieng.
But there’s a reason Pitino has taken three teams to the Final
Four. He pulled out every trick he had, switching strategies,
begging the refs for calls and finding a way – finally – to calm
his team down.
”Any time you don’t know whether a team is better offensively
or defensively, you know you’ve got a great basketball team,”
Pitino said. ”And Anthony Davis is incredible.”