NEW ORLEANS — A look at Monday night's national championship game:
KENTUCKY (37-2) vs. KANSAS (32-6)
ROAD TO THE TITLE GAME
No. 1 Kentucky beat No. 16 Western Kentucky 81-65; No. 8 Iowa State 87-71; No. 4 Indiana 102-90; No. 3 Baylor 82-70; No. 4 Louisville 69-61.
Freshman Anthony Davis lived up to his billing as national player of the year with 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in the win over Louisville. He was 7 of 8 from the field and added to his personal highlight reel with a one-handed dunk off an alley-oop pass and a flying leap off the court and over a row of media. One real positive was the way he called for the ball in the post in the second half as the Wildcats struggled from the perimeter.
This will be John Calipari's second championship game. His first was with Memphis four years ago — an overtime loss to Kansas and coach Bill Self. Calipari's strategy of not fouling with the lead before a 3-point shot could be attempted was questioned as Mario Chalmers buried a late 3 to tie the game and force overtime. Calipari did win the last meeting against Self, 75-65, at Madison Square Garden in the second game of the season.
Kentucky's roster is still loaded with NBA-level talent, but the Wildcats didn't look like the offensive juggernaut it had been throughout the NCAA tournament, failing to reach the 80-point mark for the first time. But the defense was just as good, if not better, holding Louisville to 34.8 percent shooting from the field, a stat the Wildcats led the nation in this season. One player who will be looking to make amends will be freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who was limited to 23 minutes because of foul trouble but still managed a couple of big dunks as the Wildcats took control in the final minutes.
ROAD TO THE TITLE GAME
No. 2 Kansas beat No. 15 Detroit 65-50; beat No. 10 Purdue 63-60; No. 11 North Carolina State 60-57; No. 1 North Carolina 80-67; beat No. 2 Ohio State 64-62.
Thomas Robinson took over the semifinal in the second half, finishing with 19 points and eight rebounds. It was his presence inside that allowed the Jayhawks to finish with a 42-30 rebound advantage and stymied Ohio State's frontcourt of Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas, who were a combined 8 for 33 from the field. This matchup pits him against Davis, his competition for national player of the year.
Bill Self has a chance to join the select group of multiple championship coaches. He is 3-0 in his two Final Four appearances, and the latest win looked a lot like the Jayhawks' others in this tournament — they found a way to win. Not much of a spotlight grabber, Self is considered one of the best in-game coaches, and his teams are known for the ability to shake off a poor first half, usually with a better defensive performance.
Robinson did what is expected of him in the win over Ohio State; 7-foot center Jeff Withey had eight rebounds and seven blocks; and Elijah Johnson added 13 points and 10 rebounds — a big effort from the guard who doesn't get most of the attention. Tyshawn Taylor, the guard who's considered Robinson's co-star, had 10 points and nine assists. He also had five turnovers — including a potential devastating one with 3.8 seconds left — and was 0 for 3 from 3-point range, leaving him 0 for 20 from beyond the arc in the tournament.
These are the two winningest programs in college basketball history. Each has an all-America big man and guards capable of taking over a game. The coaches are on most short lists of the best in the sport. This game has all the angles covered. Come on, what more do you want?
Most of the bracket sheets that haven't been shredded still have Kentucky, the overall No. 1 seed, winning it all. The dream scenario would be for Kentucky to have a slim lead with the clock ticking down. The flashbacks to San Antonio in 2008 would be popping into everyone's mind. Why not the same result? Kansas 73-71.