What to focus on when Kentucky plays Kansas in the NCAA Championship game on Monday
On the sport's biggest stage we have Kentucky and Kansas the sport's two programs with the most wins. Kansas has Rock Chalk Jayhawk. Kentucky has Go Big Blue. There are ties that bind. Kentucky Coach John Calipari, from Pittsburgh, and Kansas Coach Bill Self, who played at Oklahoma State, both got their starts in coaching at KU. Both worked for Larry Brown, though not at the same time. Heck, the Baron himself, Adolph Rupp, was born in Kansas and played for the Jayhawks for Phog Allen before coming to Lexington and building the program that would pass Kansas in wins.
Best player in supporting role
We know that Kentucky's Anthony Davis and Kansas' Thomas Robinson developed into player of the year candidates this season. But Monday night's game could hinge on the performances of two players in an important supporting role. Kentucky is all but unbeatable when Terrence Jones gets it going. The sophomore sleep-walked through much of Saturday's semifinal win over Louisville before awakening to make a difference down the stretch. Kansas' center Jeff Withey has turned into the nation's second-best shot blocker — Davis being numero uno — and gives the Jayhawks an eraser inside.
Field-goal percentage defense
Kentucky is the nation's No. 1 team in field goal percentage defense. Kansas is the nation's No. 2 team in field goal percentage defense. So we're looking at a 50-45 game? Probably not. There is offensive firepower on both sides. Kentucky has shot 50 percent or better in four of its five NCAA Tournament games. But the reason both teams have traveled this far has much to do with exemplary defending.
Keep the pedal to the metal
This is a game in which the Cats cannot afford to coast. Kansas has been this tournament's comeback king. The Jayhawks trailed Purdue by 11. And won. The Jayhawks trailed North Carolina State by 10. And won. Saturday night, the Jayhawks trailed Ohio State by 13. And won. Someone Sunday asked a Kansas player if he thinks his team is one of destiny. The player just smiled. To win, UK must get ahead and stay ahead.
The rematch restitution
This has been the year of the rematch, starting with Alabama beating LSU in the BCS Championship Game in the Superdome. In this Final Four, Kentucky won its rematch with Louisville, Kansas won its rematch with Ohio State. Now we have UK and Kansas in a rematch of their Nov. 15 meeting in Madison Square Garden. It's also a rematch of the 2008 NCAA title game in which John Calipari and Memphis lost to Bill Self and Kansas. As Alabama proved in football, what happened before doesn't really matter. It's what happens Monday night that counts.