No. 1 Kentucky 82, No. 9 Baylor 70

Kentucky could’ve cut the nets down at halftime.

Actually, the Wildcats probably would’ve been good skipping the

ceremony altogether.

A South Regional title is fine, but what matters to this bunch

of future NBA stars is breaking out the scissors in the Big

Easy.

Top-seeded Kentucky advanced to the Final Four for the second

year in a row with a 82-70 blitzing of Baylor, setting up a

Bluegrass showdown with rival Louisville in the national semifinals

Saturday at New Orleans.

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

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

overlooked areas to lead the Wildcats (36-2) on Sunday. For all the

hoopla sure to surround the next game in its basketball-crazed

state, Kentucky won’t consider the season a success unless it wins

two more games – culminating in a national title.

”I’m not satisfied yet,” Kidd-Gilchrist said.

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 coach John Calipari’s latest

group of Fab Freshmen. Kentucky took control with an early 16-0 run

and led by 20 at halftime.

”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, Baylor lost to eventual national champion Duke in

another regional final.

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

better.”

The Wildcats beat Louisville 69-62 on New Year’s Eve, but now

they’ll meet with the highest stakes ever. Kidd-Gilchrist shrugged

when someone asked about playing the Cardinals.

”I’m just worried about us,” he said. ”That’s it. I don’t

worry about anybody else.”

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.

Then he starts the whole process over again.

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

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

trying to do the best job for these kids and their families.”

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 could 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 for 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.

”I was just trying to be aggressive early,” Jones said. ”That

allowed me to get in great position for rebounds and to lead the

fast break.”

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 added four points,

two assists and two steals in 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.

”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.”

The Wildcats left New Orleans earlier this month disappointed

with a loss in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

That one’s long forgotten.

A national championship has been the goal all along.

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

said.

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

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

that Baylor would not be intimidated by the Wildcats.

Jones was in the clear and 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 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.

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

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 RGIII 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 them, along with a slam by Davis.

Miller hit a jumper and 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.

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at

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