Kentucky only has five players who average in double figures. Yes, only. That’s down from the six when the Wildcats arrived in New Orleans for the Final Four.
Point guard Marquis Teague fell out of those ranks after his eight point performance against Louisville, which brought his average to 9.9. Oh so close.
It’s been said many times, many ways about this Kentucky team. The one that has spent the last seven weeks as the No. 1 team in the country.
Shut one guy down, another will beat you. Or four or five others for that matter.
Sure you can make the case they are so young — all underclassmen in the starting lineup. But guess who’s there to stabilize things when the going gets tough? The lone senior — Darius Miller.
The kid has seen everything, including roughly 40 different teammates wear the blue and white in his four seasons in Lexington. That alone is enough to make him this team’s rudder. He proved it against Louisville on Saturday. His Wildcats were struggling, needed a spark. Miller scored 13 points off the bench. He’s this team’s rudder.
Roughly 200 words in and no mention of national player of the year Anthony Davis? Bourbon Street does take its toll.
The freshman has 180 blocks this season, including five against Louisville and seven against Kansas the first time these two teams met in November at Madison Square Garden.
If there was only a stat for how many times Davis has altered shots. He proclaimed for the television cameras after beating Louisville that “This is my stage.” It’s his stage and his paint. Opposing guards that go into the Kentucky forest rarely come out with much success. Davis makes sure of that.
“Anthony Davis is the best shot-blocker in the country,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said.
So what happened exactly when they met 139 days ago in New York City?
It was a pretty typical Kentucky game. The first half was even at 28-28. Then the Wildcats turned on the jets, scoring 47 points while shooting 64 percent.
That shouldn’t be a huge surprise. After all, Kentucky shot 57.1 percent from the floor in its win against Louisville — the best by any team in the Final Four since Syracuse in 2003. It helps when nearly everything the Wildcats try to do on offense goes at the rim.
Yes, Kansas has the player most feel is right there with Davis defensively in center Jeff Withey. But the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year was much of a non-factor in their first meeting — scoring seven points with six rebounds.
No team ranked No. 1 in the final poll has won the national championship since 2001 when Duke did it. Time for that to change on Monday night in New Orleans when Kentucky takes home its eighth national championship.
– Douglas Kroll, NCAA.com
Does anyone really believe KU has a chance against UK? After all, hasn’t the NCAA tournament — the 2011-12 season, even — been a run-up to the coronation of Big Blue Nation?
Actually, yes — and no.
Yes, Kansas can beat Kentucky. And no, Monday night’s national championship game is not a mere formality; if the Jayhawks’ run to New Orleans — and the title game — has proved anything, it’s don’t count out Bill Self & Co.
KU-UK will come down to defense — and Kansas can play D.
No team has shot better than 44 percent in the tournament against Kansas, and KU has not allowed more than 67 points.
And if Kansas trails at halftime, don’t fret. KU has led at halftime during one game in the tournament, its opening win against Detroit. The Jayhawks have overcome deficits against Purdue (36-30) and NC State (33-32), and was tied with North Carolina (47-47) at halftime. On Saturday, Kansas trailed Ohio State by nine (34-25) at the break.
However, defense has kept the Jayhawks in ballgames; Kansas has trailed by at least eight points in three of its five tournament wins — and by as many as 13 against Ohio State.
But with the game on the line, KU finds a way to win.
“It’s one of the things where the guys somehow find a way,” Self said Sunday. “They’re finding a way on the biggest stage. You look at our last four tournament games — Purdue has us down and out, NC State, a one-possession game, Carolina is a one-possession game. [Saturday night] Ohio State had us down and out.
“It’s remarkable to me to see how much these guys have matured, grown, trust each other. It’s been a blast to watch from the sidelines.”
Jeff Withey, whose 27 blocked shots are two shy of the tournament record, leads the nation in block rate (15.14 percent).
Offensively, Thomas Robinson averages a double-double (17.7 points, 11.7 rebounds), while Tyshawn Taylor (16.5 ppg) and Elijah Johnson (10.1 ppg) also average double figures. Entering Monday, Robinson had eight double-doubles in his past 11 games.
Travis Releford’s pedestrian numbers — 8.6 ppg and 4.2 rpg — underlines Kansas’ approach; everyone has a role and success is incumbent upon teamwork.
To wit: KU has KO’d No. 15 seed Detroit 65-50; No. 10 Purdue 63-60; No. 11 NC State 60-57; No. 1 North Carolina 80-67; and No. 2 Ohio State 64-62 en route to Monday night’s showdown with overall No. 1 Kentucky.
That’s a lot of gut-check victories for any team in a season, much less in a win-or-go-home scenario.
That experience may prove to be the difference-maker. The Jayhawks know the underdog role and thrive when the game is on the line. There’s no reason to believe KU will not be in position to play the role of spoiler again Monday night.
– Duane Cross, NCAA.com