NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Kentucky overcame an uncharacteristically tepid performance by red-hot freshman Anthony Davis to defeat Kansas 67-59 on Monday to win the national basketball championship for the eighth time.
The Wildcats (38-2) raced to a 41-27 lead at halftime and never looked back, weathering a late Kansas rally but never allowing the Jayhawks to climb closer than five points.
Doron Lamb paced the Wildcats with 22 points, while Marquis Teague added 14 and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 11. Tyshawn Taylor led Kansas with 19 points, while Thomas Robinson added 18 but the All-America forward hit only six of 17 shots.
The 6-foot-10, 220-pound Davis, the consensus player of the year, finished with just six points on one of 10 shooting from the floor but had a team-leading 16 rebounds, six blocks and five assists.
”They did it with defense, unbelievable defense in that first half,“ Kentucky coach John Calipari told reporters. ”And the second half again I pulled the reins a little bit and they were all over me, ‘Let us go, let us go,’
“We were trying to get out of this gym alive. But you have to give Kansas credit they didn’t stop like they have this whole tournament. They played well.”
Although Davis was scoreless in the opening half, the Wildcats hit 16 of 30 shots and held a commanding 25-14 lead on the glass. They finished with a 43-35 advantage in rebounds.
Kansas were unable to seriously threaten the Wildcats’ lead after halftime, delighting the largely blue and white-clad, pro-Kentucky crowd at the Louisiana Superdome.
An 8-2 run by Kansas cut the Wildcats’ lead to 48-38 midway through the second half but two consecutive three-point jumpers by Lamb hiked the lead back up to 54-40.
A late 13-3 push by Kansas brought the Jayhawks to within 62-57 with 1:37 left but Kentucky hit five of seven foul shots down the stretch to secure the win.
The victory handed Calipari his first national crown in his fourth Final Four appearance, although two of those were vacated for using an ineligible player.
Calipari, regarded as one of the nation’s top recruiters, has an eye-popping 102-14 record since arriving in Lexington three years ago after a successful decade coaching Memphis.
The victory was a measure of redemption for Calipari, whose Memphis team lost to Kansas 75-68 in overtime in the 2008 title game after his team blew four of five free throws down the stretch in regulation.
Kentucky was the nation’s best team virtually the entire season, losing only to Indiana 73-72 and to Vanderbilt 71-64 in the finals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Kansas (32-7), a veteran team with four juniors and a senior in the starting line-up, had trouble in their four previous games leading up to the final but found a way to win.
The Wildcats have three freshmen and two sophomores in the starting line-up and while they could potentially win several more titles, it is likely some will jump to the NBA early.
Reporting By Steve Ginsburg. Editing by Patrick Johnston