The University of Kentucky won its eighth men’s college basketball championship and first for coach John Calipari as it held on for a 67-59 victory against the University of Kansas.
Doron Lamb scored 22 points to lead top-ranked Kentucky (38-2), which raced to an 18-point first-half lead and then withstood a late rally by Kansas last night in New Orleans to win the final game of the three-week National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament.
National player of the year Anthony Davis, who had 16 rebounds and six of Kentucky’s championship game-record 11 blocked shots, was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four even though he hit only one of 10 shots last night. The 6-foot-10 freshman, who finished with six points, led a defensive effort that held Kansas to 36 percent shooting.
“I was struggling offensively,” Davis said at the trophy presentation. “What helped us win was defense and rebounding.”
Kentucky’s 38 victories are the most by a national champion, eclipsing the 37 wins by Kansas in 2008.
Kentucky, which also won NCAA tournament titles in 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996 and 1998, ranks second to the 11 championships by the University of California, Los Angeles. Kansas (32-7) was denied a fourth title.
“When you care so much about something and it doesn’t go your way, it’s going to hurt for a while,” said Kansas senior guard Tyshawn Taylor, who led the Jayhawks with 19 points. “We fought our hearts out.”
Calipari’s First Title
The championship is the first for Calipari, 53, one of two coaches to lead three different schools to the Final Four. In 2008, Calipari was denied a title while at the University of Memphis when Kansas won the NCAA championship game in overtime after rallying from a nine-point deficit in the final two minutes, 12 seconds of regulation play.
Calipari, who has 547 career wins and is now 102-14 in three years at Kentucky, receives a $350,000 bonus for winning the title. His championship bonus was the biggest among the coaches in the Final Four.
“This is not about me,” Calipari said. “This is about these 13 players. This is about the Big Blue nation. I don’t know of any team that has sacrificed for each other like this team and they deserve this moment.”
A starting five that featured three freshmen and two sophomores delivered Calipari’s first title.
Led By Underclassmen
Davis, who is projected as the No. 1 pick in this year’s National Basketball Association draft, according to NBAdraft.net, joins Utah’s Arnie Ferrin (1944), Louisville’s Pervis Ellison (1986) and Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony (2006) as the only freshmen to win Final Four MOP honors.
Fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who had 11 points, is projected to be taken second in the NBA draft, while the Wildcats’ other starters -- Lamb, Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague -- may also be first-round picks. Teague finished with 14 points and Jones added nine.
“What I wanted them to show was that we weren’t just a talented team,” Calipari said at a news conference. “We were a defensive team and we were a team that shared the ball. I wanted everybody to see it. It doesn’t matter how young you are, it’s how you play together.”
Kentucky is now 8-3 in the NCAA title game, while Kansas fell to 3-6. The title game was a matchup of schools that rank first and second for the most wins in college basketball history. Kentucky now has 2,092 wins and Kansas has 2,070.
Kansas coach Bill Self was denied a second title a day after winning the Naismith Coach of the Year national award. Self, 49, was seeking to become the fifth active coach to win multiple championships. Thomas Robinson added 18 points and 17 rebounds for the Jayhawks.
Kentucky’s First Half
Kentucky led by as many as 18 points in the first half before Kansas hit a pair of baskets in the final minutes to pull within 41-27 at halftime.
Davis, who this season joined Kevin Durant as the only freshmen to win national player of the year honors, missed all four of his shots in the first half, yet had nine rebounds and three blocks.
Kansas overcame deficits of more than 10 points three times in its first five NCAA tournament games -- against North Carolina State, Purdue and Ohio State in the Final Four -- and again rallied against Kentucky, which entered the game as the six-point favorite of oddsmakers.
Trailing 59-44 with five minutes, 14 seconds left, Kansas went on a 13-3 scoring run to pull within five points with 1:37 left. Kentucky’s defense again stepped up, collecting its 11th blocked shot with 1:03 left, then forcing a turnover and sealing the victory at the free throw line.
“Coach Cal told us they were going to fight back,” Davis said. “They’ve been in these situations plenty of times and they know how to come back. That’s what they did tonight. My teammates just have a great will to win. ‘