Davis Shines on Biggest Stage

Davis with rare show of emotion (US PRESSWIRE)

NEW ORLEANS - With the clock running out on Kentucky's national semifinal victory over Louisville Saturday night at the Superdome, freshman sensation Anthony Davis threw the ball high in the air and shouted out twice, "This is my stage."

Indeed it was.

The best player in the country used the biggest stage of all to have a remarkable game and lift the Wildcats (37-2) back into the title game for the first time since they won a seventh NCAA championship back in 1998.

"We're from Kentucky," Davis said after the game. "We built for this. We come out, go hard in practice."

Coach John Calipari, now with his best chance to win his first national championship, then asked his freshman, "Did you say that?"

Davis replied: "Yeah. We go hard in practice. We go out there to have fun. The emotions, I'm just glad to be here. National championship [game] as a freshman."

"Don't ask him a follow-up," Calipari said. "He doesn't know why he was saying that."

NATIONAL SEMIFINAL BREAKDOWN

Kentucky 69, Louisville 61

Player of the game: Davis played like the future No. 1 NBA draft pick that he is. The national player of the year put together one of the most complete games in Final Four history, prompting comparisons to Danny Manning of Kansas in 1988. Davis led all scorers with 18 points – 10 of those in the second half. His five blocks are the third most in a national semifinal game. Manning blocked six against Duke in 1988 and then Jeff Withey of Kansas topped them both with seven against Ohio State Saturday.

Stat line of the game: That belonged to Davis, of course. Along with the 18 points, the freshman forward contributed 14 rebounds, five blocks, two assists and one steal in 39 minutes. Davis missed only three shots. He was 7-for-8 from the field and 4-for-6 from the free throw line. His first missed shot came on a free throw attempt with15:37 remaining. Davis was huge on the defensive boards, grabbing 12 of his rebounds at that end of the floor. His blocked shots became a critical part of the game in the second half when Louisville became intimidated in the lane, adjusted shots at the last moment and missed easy baskets that could have made the game tighter.

Play of the game: Davis threw down a one-handed dunk with 1:08 left in the game after Louisville had closed the gap to 63-59. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had his only assist of the game on the play and it appeared Louisville center Gorgui Dieng got a hand on the ball to slightly redirect the pass. But Davis times his leap perfectly and slammed the ball with great force to delight Blue Nation.

Best run: Louisville scored eight unanswered points after falling behind 46-34 with 15:37 left. And that spurt sparked a 15-3 run that eventually tied the game at 49 with 9:10 remaining. Russ Smith had two baskets, Dieng and Wayne Blackshear each attacked the offensive glass for dunk follows, and Peyton Siva capped it off with a three-pointer that tied the game with 9:10 left. But the Cardinals could never regain the lead. Louisville led only once in the game – at 2-0 just 17 seconds into the game.

What Kentucky did right: The Wildcats put on a shooting clinic. Kentucky shot 60 percent (15 of 25) in the first half, dropped off slightly to 54.2 percent in the second half and finished 28 of 49 (57.1 percent).

What Louisville did right: The Cardinals really did a job on the boards, outrebounding Kentucky 40-33. Dieng led Louisville with 12 rebounds in 40 minutes. Eight of those came on the offensive glass, where Louisville grabbed 19 of its rebounds. Louisville had only six offensive rebounds. Of course the Wildcats missed just 21 shots. Louisville outscored Kentucky on second-chance points 13-10. "You have to give Louisville credit, they offensive rebounded against us better than any team we've played this year. They never stopped playing, got up into our bodies, created turnovers and gave themselves a chance to win."

Why Louisville came up short:The Cardinals had a difficult time shooting all night. Louisville shot 34.8 percent from the field. Despite that second-half run that tied the game, the Cardinals shot 32.4 percent in the second half and missed many opportunities on easy shots. "We just screwed up a little bit on our offensive execution in the beginning," coach Rick Pitino said. "We were running pick-and-rolls with the four and we were supposed to seal Anthony Davis. We did at the end of the game and that's when we made our run." Louisville missed 16 layups and dunks. Seven of those were either blocked or altered by Davis.

Where Kentucky struggled: The Wildcats had a tough time from the free throw line, especially in the second half – and that helped Louisville get back in the game. Kentucky was 7-for-15 from the line in the second half and finished 11-for-20.

Pitino comparing this Kentucky team to his 1996 champions from Lexington: "Every team is different. We had an average margin of victory in the SEC by 28. We had very few close games. We were a very deep team – much deeper than this team. But their six are every bit as good as our six, so you can't really compare eras. I will say this, that Anthony Davis is as fine a basketball player as there is."

Biggest shock: Pitino saying Louisville will be rooting for Kentucky to bring the national championship trophy home. "I think that's neat," Calipari said. "When I was at UMass [in 1996], I can remember hugging him and telling him, I'm happy for you and I really want you to win the national title. He did the same to me tonight, so I think it's kind of neat."

What's next for Kentucky: The national championship game against Kansas Monday night. The Jayhawks (32-6) rallied from 13 points down to defeat Ohio State 64-62 in the second semifinal. Thomas Robinson led KU with 19 points.

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