Mark Story: Sophomore provided the offense to lambast the Jayhawks

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 3, 2012 

NEW ORLEANS — After all the talk about Kentucky's freshmen and one-and-dones, it took a veteran to supply the offense that allowed UK to claim NCAA title number eight.

With plucky Kansas making a run in the second half, sophomore Doron Lamb — a returning standout from UK's 2011 Final Four team — drained back-to-back three-pointers to steady Kentucky.

After the Jayhawks had come perilously close at the end of a game in which they trailed by double figures for most of the contest, it was the 6-foot-4 Queens, N.Y., product who went to the foul line with a chance to secure the national title.

There were 17.5 seconds left. The score was Kentucky 65, Kansas 59.

"I was a little nervous," Lamb said. "I just told myself to focus, take a deep breath and hope they went in."

Splash, splash.

"Fortunately, they went in," Lamb said. "And now this feels great."

Kentucky beat Kansas 67-59 Monday night to claim the 2012 NCAA Championship before 70,913 fans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

It is the first NCAA crown for UK since Tubby Smith and the Comeback Cats cut down the nets in 1998. With the victory by John Calipari's third Kentucky team, UK now trails UCLA's 11 NCAA titles by three.

Much of the focus will, of course, be on UK's youth. The Cats claimed the national crown with three freshmen in the starting lineup and four among their top seven players.

But the 2012 Cats were also, in a sense, a veteran team. Lamb and fellow sophomore Terrence Jones, and senior Darius Miller, were all key components a season ago on the UK team that ended the school's post-1998 Final Four drought.

With the national title on the line, Lamb came through like a veteran.

The guard hit 7 of 12 shots, 3 of 6 three-pointers and 5 of 6 free throws to finish with a game-high 22 points.

After dominating much of the way, it turned out Kentucky (38-2) needed all the offense Lamb could provide.

Kansas (32-7) had only allowed two teams to shoot above 50 percent all year (UK was one of them, in a 75-65 win over the Jayhawks in November), but the Cats torched them for 53.3 percent in half one.

As a result, UK led 41-27 at halftime.

But everyone knew Kansas, which came from 13 down to beat Ohio State in the national semifinals, would make a run.

The Jayhawks made several.

Kansas pulled within 10, 48-38, with 11:55 left and had the ball. But the Jayhawks turned it over.

Lamb made them pay.

In a 35-second span, he drained a trey from the deep left corner and then another from the top of the key with 10 minutes left.

"They were huge," Kansas Coach Bill Self said. "We got it to 10 and had the ball, and we come up with nothing. (Lamb) shoots two in a row in there, gave them breathing room. It was huge in the game."

Lamb's treys restored UK's advantage to 16, 54-38, and supplied just enough room for the Cats, who wobbled down the stretch, to hold off Kansas.

Amid a bear-hugging, chest-pounding UK celebration on the Superdome Court, Lamb said Calipari told him early Monday that he was going to have a big game.

"Coach told me I was going to have a big game if I had a good shoot-around," Lamb said. "Well, my shoot-around was perfect. I just came out and tried to be aggressive and make shots."

Said Calipari: "When I watched his shoot-around, I thought he'd get 30 tonight."

The Kentucky freshmen were pretty good, too.

Anthony Davis went 1-for-10 from the floor, yet he dominated the game with six points, 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and three steals.

Marquis Teague drained a crucial late three-pointer and two clutch free throws and finished with 14 points. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 11 points and six rebounds and a crucial late-game blocked shot on Tyshawn Taylor that kept Kansas from pulling within four points with 54.6 seconds left.

Yet it was Lamb, Kentucky's often-over-looked silent assassin, who supplied the offense the Cats needed to claim title number eight.

"Man," UK's Jones said. "He hit shots, and hit big shots when we needed them."

Said Calipari: "When he's active, his motor is running, he's as good a guard as there is in college basketball."

In claiming number eight, UK's freshmen were terrific.

But it was a veteran who supplied the points needed to restore Kentucky to the top of college basketball.

Said Lamb: "This is an honor, man. It's why I came back and why we worked so hard over the summer."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: Markstory.bloginky.com.

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