Mark Story: Davis arrives late to party

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 1, 2012 

From the time he came to Lexington to go to college, Anthony Davis heard stories about the Kentucky-Louisville basketball rivalry.

Yet once the game finally arrived, early foul trouble meant the UK big man spent 13 minutes of the first half Saturday in Rupp Arena with a prime seat watching Cats-Cards.

It was killing him. "Really frustrating," Davis said.

With Kentucky's long-armed shot blocker on the bench, darting Cardinals guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva suddenly found the lane in front of the Wildcats basket more open than the great plains.

With Davis watching, Louisville layup after Louisville layup cut a 31-17 Kentucky lead with 4:55 left to a 36-33 UK advantage at intermission.

"When they started coming back, I was getting mad," Davis said. "They kept driving. I was seeing I could make a big difference, stop all their driving."

Fortunately for UK, after Davis got mad he got even.

Kentucky beat Louisville 69-62 on New Year's Eve before a celebrity-packed crowd of 24,387 that included Medal of Honor winner Dakota Meyer, actress Ashley Judd and hip-hop icon Jay-Z.

With the win, John Calipari is now 3-0 against Rick Pitino at UK and 8-8 all-time against Ricky P. as a college coach.

Do not expect the Museum of Modern Art to call seeking the game film. A work of art this was not.

Perhaps mindful of the chippy malevolence of the UK-U of L game two seasons ago and the all-out brawl that marred Cincinnati and Xavier's cross-town rivalry Dec. 10, officials Tony Greene, Jamie Luckie and Michael Stephens called a whopping 52 fouls Saturday

That led to a combined 70 foul shots taken.

When the Cats and Cards weren't at the foul line, they were missing shots from the floor. U of L (12-2) shot 32.3 percent (20-of-62). UK was even worse, making 29.8 (17-of-57).

That it was Kentucky winning this foul-fest owed to two primary factors. Relentless freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist played like a first-team All-American, scoring 24 points and grabbing 19 rebounds.

And there was what Anthony Davis did after halftime.

In the first half, he had no points, no shot attempts, four rebounds and one block.

By game's end, the 6-foot-10 Chicago product had 18 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots.

Calipari said he told his team during the intermission that Louisville was "getting layups because (Davis) is not in the game. When I put him back in at the start of the second half, you'll see what he does for your guys."

Three times in the first six minutes of the second half, Louisville guards penetrated the lane to shoot — only to have Davis snuff the shot.

It was a huge difference from half one. Once Davis went to the bench with his second foul with 12:29 left, Louisville scored five field goals in the paint.

With Davis back on the floor in half two, U of L had only three field goals in the first 15 minutes and 16 seconds of play.

"What you have to do to get to the basket against that guy is almost impossible," said Russ Smith, who led Louisville with 30 points. "When he closes out around the basket, it's like 'Whoa.' He's already tall, then his leaping ability is tremendous."

It's hardly shocking that Davis, who entered the Louisville game averaging 4.5 blocks, would impact the outcome with his shot swats.

What was a surprise was how he did his scoring.

A 58.7 percent foul shooter before Saturday, Davis channeled his inner Ray Allen and drained 12 of 13 free throws against Louisville.

"It looked like he was a shaky foul shooter," Pitino said of the UK big man. "Now it looks like he's Jerry West on the line."

The improved stroke from the foul line came the old-fashioned way, Davis said. "I've been practicing," he said. "I know I'm a way better foul shooter than I've been showing."

Even though he spent most of the first half seated directly across from Jay-Z, Davis said he did not realize the singer was at the game until the end.

"That was fun," Davis said. "To come see us, he could be anywhere, making music, an NBA game, but he came here to see us."

After a frustrating first half mostly spent with some of the best seats in the house, Anthony Davis is glad Jay-Z — and everyone else — got to see him actually play in half two.

"My mind-set after I had to sit out so much was that anything that came to the rim I was going to block or rebound," Davis said.

For UK's one-man S.W.A.T. team, it was mission accomplished.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com.

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