Winningest team, best year yet

mmaloney@herald-leader.comApril 3, 2012 

NEW ORLEANS — Simply the best.

Top-ranked Kentucky, the winningest team in collegiate basketball history, capped its winningest season Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with its eighth NCAA championship.

With a 67-59 victory over No. 6 Kansas, the Wildcats' eighth title came in their 11th finals appearance.

Their previous titles came in 1948, '49, '51, '58, '78, '96 and '98. UK was runner-up in 1966, '75 and '97. Only UCLA has more NCAA titles (11).

UK (38-2) reached the Final Four for the 15th time, and for the second year in a row. They were knocked out by Connecticut in last year's semifinals, 56-55.

Until rolling through this season with 38 wins in 40 games, the most wins UK had compiled in a season came from the 1947-48 title team that finished 36-3.

Monday's win was UK's 111th in NCAA Tournament play and No. 2,090 overall, both collegiate records.

Kansas, which won national titles in 1952, '88 and 2008, is second on the all-time wins list with 2,070. Monday marked the sixth time the Jayhawks have come in second.

UK's march to title madness came with Coach John Calipari starting three freshmen: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague. Sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb most often were the other starters, with senior Darius Miller sprinkled in for 11 starts.

Davis, a 6-foot-10, 220-pounder from Chicago, went into the finals with 20 double-doubles. Six came during the post-season. He averaged 14.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and an astounding 4.6 blocks.

He was a first-team All-American and won multiple player of the year awards, receiving the Adolph Rupp, John Wooden, Oscar Robertson and Naismith awards. He also won national awards as defensive player of the year and freshman of the year. He swept Southeastern Conference honors for freshman, player and defensive player of the year.

Kidd-Gilchrist, a 6-7, 232-pounder from Somerdale, N.J., was consensus pick as second-team All-American. Of his seven double-doubles, four came against teams ranked in the top 15.

The Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA South Regional, he also was a first-team All-SEC and SEC all-defensive team choice, as well as freshman All-American.

Other award winners included Jones (SEC all-tournament team, second-team All-SEC), Lamb (NCAA South Regional all-tournament team, second-team All-SEC) and Miller (SEC sixth man).

UK won its 45th SEC title, becoming only the third team to go 16-0 in SEC play. The others, both from UK, came in 1996 and 2003.

In five NCAA Tournament games leading to the finals, UK averaged 84.2 points.

They went into Monday's game with five players averaging double figures and another on the brink: Davis (14.4), Lamb (13.5), Jones (12.4), Kidd-Gilchrist (11.9), Miller (10.1) and Teague (9.9).

UK made it to the title game with Saturday's 69-61 semifinals victory over Louisville, the second time in the season the Cats beat their archrival.

Kansas also became a two-time victim. The Jayhawks fell to UK 75-65 on Nov. 15, in the State Farm Champions Classic in New York's Madison Square Garden.

When Bill Self coached Kansas to the title in 2008, the final win came against a 38-win Memphis team coached by Calipari.

Self picked up the Naismith Coach of the Year Award here Sunday, an honor for which Calipari was a finalist.

But Calipari, coach of the year in the Southeastern Conference, got the bigger prize Monday.

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com

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