NEW ORLEANS – Kentucky wound up right where it expected to be all along.
Even if it took a little work to get there.
Anthony Davis and top-seeded Kentucky will play for the national title Monday night after finally putting away pesky Louisville 69-61 in the Final Four on Saturday night. It will be Kentucky’s first appearance in the title game since winning a seventh NCAA crown back in 1998. The Wildcats (37-2) will face the winner of Kansas-Ohio State.
As the final seconds ticked down, Davis screamed at the crowd and pointed to the court as if to say, “This is our house!”
Yes, yes it is.
With Davis, everybody’s player of the year, leading a star-studded roster, Kentucky was the top seed in the tournament and the heavy favorite to cut down the nets when the whole tournament was done. And coach John Calipari wouldn’t let his young players consider anything else, saying repeatedly this was “just another game.”
But playing in-state rival Louisville (30-10) is never “just another game,” and the Cardinals made Kentucky work deep into the second half to grind this victory out.
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, Terrence 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.
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. Miller added 13 points, and Doron Lamb had 10. Kidd-Gilchrist had nine, all in the second half.