No. 1 Kentucky 82, No. 9 Baylor 70

Kentucky is taking its highlight show back to the Big Easy.

With an NBA-like display from a young team filled with future

pros, top-seeded Wildcats advanced to the Final Four for the second

year in a row with a 82-70 blitzing of Baylor in the South Regional

final on Sunday.

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

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

overlooked areas, leading the Wildcats (36-2) to a Bluegrass

showdown with rival Louisville in the national semifinals next

Saturday at New Orleans.

For all the hoopla sure to surround that game in the

basketball-crazed state, Kentucky won’t consider the season a

success unless it wins two more games – culminating in a national

title.

”This team is playing for you and playing for each other,”

coach John Calipari told the predominantly blue-clad crowd when it

was over. ”Let’s see if we can keep this thing rolling a

bit.”

This group sure has the look of a champion, shaking off an early

blow by the Bears (30-8) – a very good team with a daring fashion

sense that was simply no match for Calipari’s latest group of Fab

Freshmen. Kentucky took control with an early 16-0 run and led by

20 at halftime.

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

Calipari, in his third season at Kentucky, just keeps recruiting

the best high school players in the land, molds them into a top

team, then sends most of `em on to the NBA before they’ve barely

had time to find their way to class.

Then he starts the whole process over again.

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

Last season, Brandon Knight helped guide the Wildcats to the Final

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

stopping off for what will likely be their only season in

Lexington, Big Blue has a shot at what those last two teams failed

to do – bringing Kentucky its first national title since 1998.

But all the talk about Calipari’s one-and-done tactics, he’s

getting plenty of contributions from those who hung around beyond

their freshmen year. Take Jones, a sophomore forward who passed up

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

fingerprints were all over Kentucky’s dominating performance: nine

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

the first 10 minutes.

Then there’s Darius Miller, one of only two seniors on the

roster. He gave up his starting role to Kidd-Gilchrist in this one

– Kentucky essentially has six starters – but four points, two

assists and two steals to the first-half blowout.

At one point, Kidd-Gilchrist had as many points as Baylor’s

entire team: 17 apiece. Kentucky led 42-22 at the break and Baylor

never got any closer than 10 points the rest of the way.

The Wildcats left New Orleans earlier this month disappointed

with a loss in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

Quincy Acy led Baylor with 22 points.

With Baylor’s Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III cheering

on the Bears from the stands, Acy tried to send a message early on

that Baylor would not be intimidated by the Wildcats.

With Jones in the clear and going in for a fastbreak layup, 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 after looking at the

replay.

Jones made one of the free throws, Kentucky missed a jumper and

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.

The big man missed the dunk, hanging on the rim as Baylor

grabbed the rebound and took off the other way for a basket.

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 – and, boy, did they respond.

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.

Cat-Lanta, indeed. Too bad RG3 couldn’t suit up for the Bears,

who couldn’t wear the neon-green home uniforms they had specially

made for the tournament. As the lower-seeded team, they switched to

another special uniform, this one black and camouflage with neon

trim.

Turns out, blue was the dominant color.

Jones displayed his all-around game, coming up with three steals

and swatting away a shot by 5-foot-10 Pierre Jackson like this was

a game between men and boys. Kentucky fed off his defense, running

the court at every opportunity for layup after layup.

Kidd-Gilchrist had three of `em, along with a slam by Davis that

made up for the one he missed.

Darius Miller hit a jumper, and even little-used freshman Kyle

Wiltjer knocked down a 3-pointer, pumping his fist and smiling as

he trotted back down the court.

There were plenty of smiles from the folks in blue, though

Kentucky did get a scare 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

knees with 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.

After just a few minutes, Davis got up and headed to the

scorer’s table, checking back into the game.

The Kentucky fans broke into a huge cheer of relief.

There’s still work to do in the Big Easy.

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