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Tue April 3, 2012
Sports

Wildcats Roll To 8th NCAA Title, Coach Calipari's 1st

Originally published on Wed April 4, 2012 2:01 pm

The Kentucky Wildcats beat the Kansas Jayhawks 67-59 Monday night in New Orleans, claiming their eighth NCAA men's basketball title and head coach John Calipari's first.

The Jayhawks trailed by 14 at halftime, and just 5 points separated the teams with about a minute left in the game. But Kansas couldn't get any closer to beating Kentucky, a team stacked with young talent that had dominated the whole tournament.

It's a common refrain in New Orleans: "Laissez les bons temps rouler" — "Let the good times roll." But the way Kentucky played, you might say, "Let the good 'Cats roll." They annihilated opponents in their region, and once they got to the Crescent City, they kept right on rolling. They beat Louisville by 8 points in a semifinal game that really wasn't that close, and they beat Kansas by 8 in a game that wasn't even as close as that.

Bill Self, the Kansas coach whose players fought hard, said his team put itself in position to make it a one-possession game but "just didn't get it done."

"But it wasn't from a lack of try or lack of competitive juice or lack of toughness," he said.

Yes, but for a few breaks and a few plays, Kansas might have been within spitting distance of striking distance — and that counts as a close game against Kentucky.

If Kentucky's NCAA run were a prime-time series, it would have been canceled halfway through for lack of drama. As a soap opera, though, there were a lot of story lines.

For one, there was the youth angle. For only the fourth time in tournament history, a freshman was named Most Outstanding Player: Anthony Davis. Other young stars — Marquis Teague, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones — dominated at times. But it's the way Davis took over games that earned him the award.

Objectively speaking, he had an awful shooting night: 1 for 10 from the field. But he racked up 6 blocks, 5 assists and 16 rebounds.

After 20 minutes of play, Calipari said he knew Davis "didn't have a point."

"And before he left the ... locker room, I said, 'Listen to me: Don't you now go out there and try to score,' " the coach said. " 'If you have opportunities, score the ball. If you don't, don't worry about it. You're the best player in the building, so don't worry.' "

Davis isn't the best big man in college basketball history — think Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor or Patrick Ewing. But no freshman center has ever demonstrated an array of skills that are quite as polished. And they'll have to be. By all accounts, Davis will be leaving for the NBA. The whole team may well join him.

The rule that permits great players to leave after just one year is something Calipari is made to answer for constantly. In short, he says, "It is a rule. It's not my rule. It's a rule we have to deal with."

The other dramatic angle of this championship was the accomplished coach finally winning a title. Calipari was asked endlessly if a title would be vindication, or at least a permanent rejoinder to critics. The coach maintained that earning a title for himself wasn't a motivation; he just wanted to win his team a title.

But forward Terrence Jones weighed in on what Calipari's accomplishment means to the players.

"For us as players that play for him, it means a lot just because he gives us so much credit anytime we win, and he'll take all the fault if anything goes wrong," Jones said. "Just to win for him is just something special. We play so hard for us to just play for him."

That's why, Calipari said in the last sentence of his postgame remarks, "I've got to go recruiting on Friday."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Kentucky Wildcats have won their eighth NCAA men's basketball title with a 67-59 victory over the Kansas Jayhawks last night in New Orleans. The Jayhawks trailed by 14 at halftime. Kansas did manage to get within five with just over a minute left in the game, but they couldn't come closer than that. So Kentucky wins another championship, the first for head coach John Calipari. NPR's Mike Pesca was at the game in New Orleans and he sent us this report.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Laissez les bons temps rouler is the unofficial slogan of New Orleans at times. The way Kentucky played in the Final 4 – heck, the whole tournament - you may want to change it to Laissez les bons chat rouler. Let those good cats roll. They annihilated opponents in their region, and once they got to the Crescent City, the Wildcats kept on rolling.

They beat Louisville by eight points in a semi final game that really wasn't that close. And they beat Kansas last night by eight points in a game that wasn't even as close as the Louisville game. Bill Self, the Kansas coach whose players fought hard, put it this way.

BILL SELF: We put ourselves in a position to make it a one possession game, you know, late, and just didn't get it done. But it wasn't from a lack of try or lack of competitive juice or lack of toughness.

PESCA: Yes, but for a few breaks, and a few plays Kansas might have been within spitting distance of striking distance. That counts as a close game against Kentucky. If Kentucky's NCAA run were a primetime series, it would have been cancelled halfway through for lack of drama.

Although as a soap opera there were lots of storylines. For one, there was the youth angle. When Jim Nantz of CBS announced the Final 4 most outstanding player, Kentucky coach John Calipari grabbed the mic with an interjection.

(SOUNDBITE OF CBS BROADCAST)

JIM NANTZ: Hey, I'm being told right now that we have for just the fourth time in the history of this championship, a freshman has won the MOP, most outstanding player.

JOHN CALIPARI: Which one?

NANTZ: Yeah, which one?

PESCA: Exactly. All of Kentucky's three freshmen, Marcus Teague, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis, dominated at times. But it was the manner in which Anthony Davis took over games that earned him the award.

Objectively speaking, Davis had an awful shooting night - one for 10 from the field. But look at the rest of that stat sheet: six blocks, five assists, 16 rebounds. After 20 minutes of play, Calipari had these words for him.

CALIPARI: I knew he didn't have a point. And before he left the building, or the gym, the locker room, I said, listen to me, don't you now go out there and try to score. If you have opportunities, score the ball. If you don't, don't worry about it. You were the best player in the building, so don't worry.

PESCA: Davis isn't the best big man in college basketball history - think Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor or Patrick Ewing. But no freshman center has ever dominated with an array of skills that are quite as polished. And they'll have to be. By all accounts, Davis will be leaving for the NBA. The whole team may well join him. The rule that permits great players to leave after just one year is something Calipari is made to answer for all the time. Here's the short version of what he says.

CALIPARI: It is a rule. It's not my rule. It's a rule we have to deal with.

PESCA: The other top soap opera angle was the accomplished coach finally winning a title. Calipari was asked endlessly if a title would be vindication, or a permanent rejoinder to critics. The coach maintained that earning a title for himself was never a motivation; he just wanted to win one for his team. So forward Terrence Jones was asked: What does your coach finally winning a title mean to you?

TERRANCE JONES: For us as players that play for him, it means a lot just because he gives us so much credit any time we win and he'll take all the fault if anything goes wrong. I mean, just to win for him is just something special. We play so hard for us to just play for him.

PESCA: That's why, Calipari said in the last sentence of his post-game remarks, I've got to go recruiting on Friday.

Mike Pesca, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.