Kentucky gets tested, but still fights off Louisville

Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis (23) missed just one of his eight shots and finished with 18 points and14 rebounds. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) scored nine for the Wildcats. DAVID J. PHILLIP / Associated Press
Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis (23) missed just one of his eight shots and finished with 18 points and14 rebounds. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) scored nine for the Wildcats. DAVID J. PHILLIP / Associated Press (Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis (23) missed just one of his eight shots)
Posted: April 01, 2012

NEW ORLEANS - If you wondered how Kentucky might do if the Wildcats got challenged in the second half, wonder no longer. These Wildcats had played just six games all season decided by six points or fewer, none in the NCAA tournament that saw them breeze to the Final Four.

Kentucky (37-2) had to fight for this one, though, and defeated Louisville, 69-61, in a Final Four semifinal Saturday night at the Superdome. The Wildcats are 40 minutes from the school's eighth national championship.

This game looked like more of that breezing for 24 minutes. The Wildcats led by 13 and looked ready to blow the game against Louisville (30-10) wide open. Then, the Big East champion Cardinals, whose best weapon was the missed shot, began to create live-ball turnovers and converted more and more of those misses into points.

The 13-point lead became a dead heat in seven minutes. A lesser team might have caved. Kentucky played better, especially on defense. Suddenly, the Wildcats were getting all those Louisville misses (and they were missing everything). And they won the kind of game Louisville wanted them to play - uneven and low-scoring, where nothing came easy.

Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis appeared to be two or three people, blocking layups and three-pointers, scoring on a ridiculous dunk early, an absurd lob dunk late, a lefthanded jump hook that came off an instructional tape, and on one possession actually leading a fastbreak.

Davis (18 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks) missed one shot. He is winning all the national player of the year awards. This was a player of the decade performance.

"It was very emotional," Davis said of the game. "We're one game closer to our dream and our goal."

Kentucky coach John Calipari said Davis kept telling him to tell the team "to throw me the ball." When he got it, he scored. When Louisville got it near him, the Cardinals flinched.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino compared him to Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, who affected games by just being in the arena.

Kentucky senior Darius Miller gets lost amid all the freshmen and sophomores. But it was his late three that was the kill-shot.

"They never gave up," Calipari said of Louisville. "I had the team that has had teams come at them all year."

When it was done, Pitino told Calipari: "I'll be pulling for you to bring the trophy home to Kentucky."

Pitino has seniors and calls this team his favorite, along with that team from Providence that took him to his first Final Four a quarter-century ago. He could not do it the way Calipari does it.

"I marvel at what John has done," Pitino said. "I can't say hello and goodbye in seven months."

Calipari finds what it takes to win in the modern game. And does it.

"They're a great defensive team," Pitino said. "They're a very mature team. Whoever wins the Ohio State-Kansas game is going to have to play a hell of a game to beat them."

Kentucky was the heavy favorite to win this tournament because it has so many answers, even when the questions are so difficult.

The Wildcats solved the problem of the shooting background in the raised-floor, football-stadium-size configuration era at the Final Four. They just ran the ball at the rim for dunk after dunk.

Playing against the No. 1 defensive-efficiency team in the country, the Wildcats did what they have been doing to everybody in this tournament - attack. The Wildcats shot 57.1 percent to just 34.8 percent for Louisville.

Louisville stayed alive on guts and not much else. Just as they were completing their comeback from 45-32 down to a 49-all tie, the Cardinals had 17 offensive rebounds to just two for Kentucky. They had taken 18 more shots.

But you have to make some shots. What Louisville did not miss outright, Kentucky altered or blocked.


Contact Dick Jerardi at Jerardd@phillynews.com.

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