NEW ORLEANS — Kentucky completed one of the more dominating NCAA Tournament runs in the proud program's history Monday night by beating Kansas 67-59 to claim its eighth national championship and John Calipari's first as a coach.
Ironically, Anthony Davis, who became only the fourth freshman voted the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, proved scoring can be incidental to championship play. He didn't make a basket until 5:12 left and finished with six points.
But Davis pulled down 16 rebounds, giving him 30 in the Final Four, which was the most since Hakeem Olajuwon grabbed 40 in 1983. Davis also blocked six shots, which moved his season total to 186, thus setting an NCAA record for freshmen.
When Kansas closed a nearly game-long UK lead to 65-59, Davis forced Elijah Johnson to release the ball and try to retrieve it rather than take a three-point shot. The walking call closed the deal.
Calipari saw Davis as a living example of a pointed question he asked his players a month ago: What do you do to help us win when you're not scoring the ball?
"You saw it with him," he said.
Davis' gritty production was much needed because Kansas came into the game hoping to out-tough Kentucky. No doubt, the Jayhawks hoped the muscle would work on UK's nerves.
"We're not just a talented team," Calipari said. "We're a defensive team and a team that shares the ball.
"We were the best team."
Kansas, which rallied from 13 down to beat Ohio State in Saturday's semifinals, staged one of its patented second-half comebacks. The Jayhawks reduced a onetime 18-point UK lead to 62-57 with 1:37 left.
"We got the game to what we wanted," Kansas Coach Bill Self said of the second half. "A muddy track."
Kentucky (38-2) wobbled. But the Cats showed again they could make clutch plays. With UK holding a 63-57 lead, a block by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of a Tyshawn Taylor drive with a minute left started the celebration.
"Unbelievable play," Taylor said. "I thought I had that. ... His length is something you can't really teach."
Self saluted Kentucky.
"We came up short," he said. "But I don't think we lost."
Kentucky, which trailed for only nine minutes and eight seconds in six NCAA Tournament games, won the tournament for the first time since 1998. The eighth title leaves UK trailing only UCLA, which has won 11.
Neither Davis nor Thomas Robinson, the first consensus All-Americans to meet in a title game since Duke's Elton Brand and Connecticut's Richard Hamilton in 1999, shot well.
Davis made one of 10 shots. Robinson made six of 17, while scoring 18 points and grabbing 17 rebounds.
As reflected in a 25-14 rebounding advantage, Kentucky showed plenty of toughness in the first half. The Cats added their signature transition offense to build a 41-27 halftime lead.
Although Kansas came into the championship game with a reputation for resilience and second-half comebacks, this was uncharted territory. It was the Jayhawks' largest halftime deficit of the season. The previous high came in an 87-86 overtime victory over Missouri in which Kansas trailed 44-32 at intermission.
Kentucky took the lead for good on a jumper by Marquis Teague with 16:42 left.
The Cats steadily expanded the lead, which reached its first-half zenith at 18 points twice in the final 64 seconds of the half.
Kansas came into the game ranked second (to Kentucky) in field-goal defense. But UK made 53.3 percent of its first-half shots. Baskets by Lamb and Kidd-Gilchrist gave Kentucky its 18-point margins.
Kansas suffered when Robinson made two of his first 10 shots, often missing badly. With Davis always lurking, Terrence Jones defended Robinson.
Davis, who missed his only four shots of the half, blocked three shots. The third broke the NCAA season record for freshman, which had been 182 by Marshall's Hassan Whiteside in 2009-10. Davis got the record-breaker with help defense against a posting Robinson with eight minutes left.
Kidd-Gilchrist's defense kept Taylor contained offensively.
But back-to-back baskets by Robinson and Taylor in the final minute — the only time Kansas scored on two straight possessions in the game's first 25 minutes — reduced the UK lead to 14 at halftime.
Kansas, which had outscored its last four opponents 133-96 in the second half, closed the lead to 41-30 with 17:53 left.
Kansas was looking to come back when Robinson rebounded a Davis miss but lost the ball. That resulted in a Jones dunk, which put UK ahead 46-30, and Kansas called a timeout.
Within the next minute, Kansas scored twice in transition, prompting a UK timeout with 13:52 left.
Kansas got as close as 48-38. Then after a TV timeout, Lamb hit three-pointers from the left corner and the right wing. That put Kentucky ahead 54-38 with 10 minutes left.
With victory looking secured, there was time for levity.
After Jones missed the first of two free throws with 6:02 left, making him 0-for-9 in two Final Fours, he made the second. Calipari staggered in mock horror. A three-pointer by Taylor, which snapped personal 0-for-19 streak in domes, and 0-for-23 in the NCAA Tournament, seemed inconsequential.
But Taylor's old-fashioned three-point play on a fast-break drive heightened tension. It reduced Kentucky's lead to 59-50 with 4:17 left.
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com