None of this, however, was for the faint of heart. The Jayhawks trailed by double digits in three of their five tournament games leading to the final and played every game down to the wire. They fell behind by 18 late in the first half of this one and this time, there was no big comeback to be made; not against these guys.
"We knew coming in that we had been in situations like that before," Releford said. "We played like that all year. We figured we'd come out in the second half and run how we did. It just wasn't good enough."
Davis realized early this was no shoot-first night for him at the Superdome, and Calipari all but told him to cool it at halftime.
"I said, 'Listen to me, don't you go out there and try to score,'" the coach said.
Davis listened. Sporting his near-unibrow, which the UK Wildcat mascot also decided to paste on, he endured the worst shooting night of a short college career in which he makes 64 percent. No big deal. He set the tone early on defense, swatting Robinson's shot twice, grabbing rebounds, making pretty bounce passes for assists.
Early in the second half, he made a steal that also could have been an assist, knocking the ball out of Robinson's hands and directly to Jones, who dunked for a 46-30 lead.
Then, finally. With 5:13 left in the game, he spotted up for a 15-foot jumper from the baseline that swished for a 59-44 lead, putting a dagger in one of Kansas' many comebacks.
"He was terrific," Self said. "The basket he made was one of the biggest baskets of the game."
The crowd, a little more full of Kentucky fans than Kansas, went crazy. If this guy only stays one year and only makes one shot, they're fine with that.
It's the new normal at Kentucky, where Adolph Rupp set a standard, Rick Pitino lived up to it for a while, then Calipari — hardly the buttoned-down type — was hired to bring back the glory.
He goes for the best player, no matter what their long-term goals.
Normally, the prospect of losing all those players in one swoop would have people thinking about a tough rebuilding year.
But Cal has mastered the art of rebuilding on the fly.
He's the coach who brings in the John Walls, Brandon Knights and Derrick Roses (at Memphis) for cups of coffee, lets them sharpen up their resumes, then happily says goodbye when it becomes obvious there's nothing left for them to do in school.
Last year, the formula resulted in a trip to the Final Four that ended with a crushing loss to Connecticut in the semifinals.
This year, Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist came to Lexington with big-time bona-fides, and they didn't disappoint. Kentucky lost only twice all season — once on a buzzer-beater at Indiana, the second time last month in the SEC tournament title game to Vanderbilt, in the arena across the way from the Superdome.
The trip to New Orleans might have been, as Calipari put it, just what the doctor ordered for a team that could sometimes border on arrogance.
They rebounded nicely for the real tournament, and through it all, the coach refused to apologize for the way he recruits or how he runs his program. Just playing by the rules as they're set up, he says, even if he doesn't totally agree with them. Because he refuses to promise minutes or shots to any recruit and demands teamwork out of all of them, he says he comes by these players honestly.
He has produced nine first-round picks in the last four drafts with a few more coming. This latest group will have an NCAA title in tow and the everlasting love of a fan base that bleeds basketball.
When it was over, all that Kentucky talent ran to the corner of the court, got in a group huddle and jumped up and down like the kids they really are. Will Calipari coach any of them again?
"What I'm hoping is there are six first-rounders on this team," the coach said. "I'm fine with that. That's why I've got to go recruiting on Friday."
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