Five Key Takeaways.
- Calipari Wins the Big One, Justifies One-and-Done Strategy. Sometimes it’s a very simple game — the team that has the best players wins. But to put it in those stark terms seems to minimize the role that coaching has on the game, especially at the collegiate level. In knockout scenarios like the NCAA Tournament, the best team (or the team having the best players) doesn’t guarantee a win, but John Calipari was able to mold a group of three star freshmen with two sophomores and a senior to put together one of the most dominant seasons in college basketball history (38-2). There’s been a lot of talk during the one-and-done era as to whether a team centered on young but spectacular talent could win it all in the crucible of March — Calipari’s 2011-12 group both justifies his recruiting strategy in targeting those players as well as elevates his own status as a great recruiter/good coach to one that has greatness on both sides of that equation.
- Anthony Davis Controlled the Game Defensively. The NPOY had one of the weirdest stat lines you’ll ever see, shooting only 1-10 from the field and scoring six points, but grabbing 16 boards, blocking six shots, dishing five assists, and ripping three steals. He also stayed out of foul trouble to play 36 total minutes. It’s a broken record that we’ve said this so much, but not only does Davis challenge a big number of shots for which he doesn’t get an official block, but he also gets into other teams’ heads because they’re thinking about him every single time they enter the paint. His effect on the game in that way is unquestionable and unquantifiable, yet it causes teams to make plays that they normally wouldn’t make if he wasn’t patrolling around the area. Kansas shot a meager 36% from the field, with really only Tyshawn Taylor having a decent offensive game (if you can excuse his five turnovers, including a killer with just under a minute left).
- The Quiet… Lamb Headlines Will Be Out of Control. We were wrong about how this game would go, thinking it would be much closer throughout, but we were right about one thing — that one of the lesser-known players on Kentucky would step up if they were to win the game. It turned out to be Doron Lamb, perhaps along with Darius Miller one of the most overlooked players on the Wildcats. His back-to-back threes when KU had crept back to within 10 points with just over 10 minutes remaining held the Jayhawks at bay and allowed UK sufficient buffer to make some mistakes and still keep a comfortable lead down the stretch. Lamb ended up with a huge 22-point, three-assist evening that helped make up for the vacuum created by Davis’ six-point night.
- Kansas Couldn’t Come Back Against This Team. Bill Self’s team did it against Purdue and did it against Ohio State, but Kentucky wasn’t going to be the third act in the KU Comeback Tour. They were valiant in making the game interesting down the stretch, but they’d just built themselves too big of a hole to make the comeback against a Kentucky team that doesn’t have long scoring droughts. One of the major keys to this game was that Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford combined to shoot an awful 6-for-19, and for KU to have had any realistic chance of winning this game, they were going to need production beyond Taylor (19 points) and Robinson (18 points).
- Jeff Withey Made Himself Some Money Tonight. Withey will probably be back in Lawrence for his senior season, but we imagine that while Anthony Davis is off next year winning NBA Rookie of the Year, analysts will repeatedly cite how Withey frustrated Davis into a 1-10 shooting night using his long arms and body to bump him froim his favorite spots in the post. Withey himself only shot 2-8 and grabbed seven boards, but his offensive game is a work in progress and he’ll have another year to fine tune it at Kansas.
Star of the Game. Doron Lamb, Kentucky. Lamb’s 22-point, three-assist night provided the necessary offensive support to both help the Wildcats run out to a comfortable 14-point lead at the half, but also to keep the Jayhawks at bay when they made a mini-run in the second half. You could give Anthony Davis the award just about every game for his defense, but we’ll go with the talented sophomore here tonight.
Quotable. “I said this a couple of years ago and everybody got crazy when we had five guys drafted in the first round. This is one of the biggest moments, if not the biggest, in Kentucky history. The reason was, I knew now other kids would look and say, You got to go there.” — John Calipari, justifying his remarks about his 2010 draft class, in that the seeds of this year’s championship were sown on that night. Can’t argue with that (although clearly nights like tonight mean a lot more to UK fans).
Sights & Sounds. Terrence Jones was kind enough to give us a great shot holding the trophy.
What’s Next? Kentucky takes their nets home and celebrates with what we’re hearing is a burning Lexington right now. Presumably many if not all of the five underclassmen who play minutes for this team will enter the NBA Draft in June. But Calipari mentioned that he’s going recruiting later this week, and if he manages to pull a Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad out of his hat, he’ll be back in the Final Four with the Wildcats again soon enough. Kansas, on the other hand, will assuredly lose Thomas Robinson along with seniors Taylor and Connor Teahan, but Bill Self has a solid core to build around with Withey and we’re never doubting his coaching abilities again after what he did with this group.