NEW ORLEANS – Look at any basketball box score and one of the first things your eyes gravitate to is the points’ column. After all, you score more than the other guy and you win the game. It’s the only stat that matters at the end of the day.
In Monday’s national championship game, it was a little different for the two tallest players on the court. Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Kansas’ Jeff Withey combined for only 11 points.
But they were the stars of the game. Rare? Sure. With these two? Not surprising.
The two put on a defensive and rebounding clinic in a game which saw the Wildcats seal the eighth national title in program history.
We all knew the defense and rebounding parts of the game each brought to the table – with the accolades that have poured in the last couple of weeks.
Just how good were they at the Superdome?
Davis became the first freshman since 2003 to win the Final Four Most Outstanding Player Award. Not bad for someone who scored just six points – the first of those coming on a free throw with 15:30 remaining in the game.
That’s right, nearly 25 minutes in. The Wildcats still had 44 points and led by 14, despite their leading scorer being kept out of that column. The other columns? Not so much.
At that point, Davis had 13 rebounds, four assists, five blocks and two steals – despite being 0 for 7 from the floor.
Davis’ first field goal came with 5:14 to go. And wouldn’t you know it, it came on a 15-foot jumper from the corner – when his first eight shots were nearly all gimmes and put-backs at the rim.
That’s just one of the many ways this freshman sensation can beat you. Even when he’s wide open.
“At halftime, I knew he didn’t have a point,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “Before he left the locker room, I said ‘Listen to me, don’t you now go out there and try to score. If you have opportunities, score the ball. If you don’t, don’t worry about it. You’re the best player in the building, so don’t worry.’ I think he went out and shot the first three balls.”
In the end, Davis finished just 1 for 10, but grabbed 16 rebounds while leading the team with five assists and three steals to go along with six blocks. That total tied the national championship game record held by Joakim Noah in 2006.
“I knew I was struggling, so I told them, ‘I’m going to defend and rebound, you all make all the points,’” Davis said. “That’s what they did tonight.”
Kansas head coach Bill Self agreed.
“He just impacts the game so much with his length and he’s so quick,” Self said. “He’s also a ball-handling big guy which puts you in an awkward position sometimes.”
Withey didn’t disappoint on the other end for the Jayhawks. Take 36 seconds into the game when the 7-footer swatted a Terrence Jones shot into the crowd – that’s a long drop from the raised court in the Superdome.
The tone was set and Kansas wasn’t going to go away thanks to its big man in the middle.
Withey finished with only five points, going 2 for 8 but he grabbed seven rebounds while blocking four shots and altering plenty more.
But one of the plays of the game for the Wildcats that sealed the win came with just 24 seconds remaining. And it didn’t show up in the stat sheet.
Davis stepped out to guard an Elijah Johnson shot that could have cut into a Kentucky six-point lead. Davis’ presence caused Johnson to travel. Turnover. Game over. Season over.
The 70,913 fans were treated to quite a show. Defense does win championships. Yes, even when that column with points at the top isn’t so full.