Congratulations to the Louisville Cardinals for doing exactly what they needed to do to keep the National Semifinal game with the Kentucky Wildcats close: creating turnovers by playing tough, switching, frenetic defense, both in the half court and in its press -- thus making the game ugly -- and rebounding like mad men, particularly on the offensive end. In the final tally, though, UK's talent level was much too burdensome of an obstacle to overcome, as the 'Cats won the Battle of the Bluegrass, 69-61 (in Rupp Arena on December 31, UK came out on top 69-62). Kentucky will now play for its eighth national championship on Monday night against the winner of (2) Ohio State and (2) Kansas.
A win over the Cards, is a win over the Cards, with this win made sweeter by the championship ramifications. But UK did not play especially well (with the exception of Anthony Davis), and if an encore performance is in store for Monday night, the 'Cats will leave New Orleans with the second place trophy.
For my evaluation of individual performances, follow me after the break.
First, with the win, UK breaks the school record for most wins in a season with 37. Second, for those who don't know, today, March 31, is the four-year anniversary of the death of Mr. Wildcat, Bill Keightley. Speaking for myself, I certainly would have loved to have seen Mr. Bill occupying the seat next to Coach Cal, but I'm sure Mr. Keightley has enjoyed the ride from his lofty perch.
Now, on to the Wildcat performers:
Anthony Davis ... why should anyone be surprised as Spider man displayed why he is the most immeasurably talented player in college basketball. Defensively he blocked five shots and altered countless others, while on the offensive end Davis showed-off his repertoire of shots including a sweet baby hook, midrange jumper, and of course, the flush to finish. Deserving of kudos is UofL's Gorgui Dieng who did an outstanding job of sealing Davis off UK's defensive glass, opening the door for countless Louisville second chance points.
Davis ended his day with a game-high 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting, a game-high 14 rebounds, two assists and five blocks.
Senior Darius Miller made some defensive mistakes, most notably, not switching onto the 3-point shooter resulting in a 3-shot foul on a recovering Terrence Jones (a point Coach Cal was happy to accentuate with a few suggestions). Miller, though, installed two daggers into the Cardinal's heart with a 3-pointer to make the score 58-51 with 5:04 left, and again by making two free throws to give the 'Cats a 60-51 lead with 4:27 remaining. The senior obviously wanted to play one more collegiate game.
Miller finished the contest with 13 points (4-7 field goals, 1-4 treys), three rebounds, and two steals (one of which led to a breakaway half layup, half dunk).
Terrence Jones was busy most of the game trying ... well, not trying, but rather, succeeding in stopping UofL's top outside shooting threat Kyle Kuric by limiting his touches -- Kuric finished the game with seven points on 1-2 3-point shooting. And when crunch time rang the door bell, Jones grabbed several important rebounds (four boards in the final 4:14) and scored points when the 'Cats were thirsting to gain separation late (TJ nailed a midrange jumper at the 6:23 mark of the second, giving UK a 55-51 edge). An old NCAA bugaboo came back to bite Jones, though, as he missed all three of his free throws.
Jones finished with six points on 3-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds, two steals, and two blocks.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who picked up his second foul at the 13:47 mark of the first half (on a hilariously poor call), and sat the remainder of the half, then picked up his third foul with 14:01 left in the game (on another terrible call, this one a charge), rendering MKG out of the game flow, and clearly uncomfortable -- in only 23 minutes of action he committed 4 turns and missed 3-of-4 free throws -- until the clock began winding down, and MKG went to work by scoring four points in the final :45 seconds of the contest, and assisting on a Davis dunk with 1:07 remaining.
MKG had nine points on 4-of-6 field goal accuracy, four rebounds and one assist.
UK's point guard, and perceived Wildcat "weak link," Marquis Teague, scored six of UK's first 10 points of the contest, ensuring the 'Cats started strongly out of the gate. As the game wore on, Teague committed a couple of silly fouls (he finished with four fouls), and a few unforced turnovers (he finished with two turns), but overall I grade Teague out at a B- for the game, as he made solid decisions on the break, didn't force any shots, and dished out five assists.
Teague scored eight points on 4-of-8 shooting, and grabbed two rebounds to go along with his five dimes and two turns.
Doron Lamb has had better days. Although Lamb kept UK in front in the first half with timely midrange jumpers and drives to the rim, when handling the basketball against the Louisville press (and in the halfcourt trap) he made several critical errors which resulted in Cardinal points off turnovers (like MKG, Lamb had four turnovers). Lamb simply has to play better Monday night for the 'Cats to have a chance to win.
Lamb finished with 10 points (4-9 field goals, 0-2 treys).
Kyle Wiltjer was taken advantage of by those nasty Cards a few times on the defensive end (Dieng was the primary culprit), but he played with great aggressiveness on the boards, grabbing a 50/50 rebound, as he provided John Calipari with key minutes after MKG sat in the first half. Offensively, Wiltjer was fantastic, nailing a 3-pointer (so, what's new?), and scoring a deuce on a nice drive through the lane.
Wiltjer finished with five points, one rebound and one steal in seven minutes of play.
Kentucky final stats: 57.1% field goals (28-49); 28.6% 3-point shooting (2-7); 55.0% free throws (11-20); 14 turnovers (seven in each half); seven blocks; seven steals; nine assists; 33 rebounds, six of the offensive variety, for a putrid and unacceptable 28.6 offensive rebound percentage.
UK stat of the game: After a Peyton Siva trifecta tied the score at 49, UK outscored UofL 20-12 over the final 9:10 of the game.
UK's defense held the Cards to 34.8% shooting (24-69), 36.4% accuracy from distance (4-11). The Cards should be arrested for Wildcat board abuse after snagging 19 offensive rebounds for an unacceptable 42.2 offensive rebound percentage.
UofL point guard Peyton Siva ended with 11 points, three assists and three turnovers. Gorgui Dieng grabbed 12 boards (eight offensive). Bowling Green High School alum Chane Behanan netted 10 points and nine rebounds.
Win and advance, that's what it's all about, and that's what the 'Cats did, so a hearty congratulations to Kentucky for leading UK to its first title game appearance since 1998.
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!