Kansas, Kentucky set finals

Published 8:28 am Monday, April 2, 2012

NEW ORLEANS — Well, this matchup is going to look familiar.

John Calipari and his Kentucky juggernaut will face Kansas for the national championship on Monday night. That would be the same school that beat Memphis in overtime for the NCAA title in 2008, back when Calipari was coaching the Tigers.

It also would be the same Kansas team that the Wildcats beat back in November.

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“We’re worried about us playing at our best,” Calipari said after Kentucky held off pesky Louisville 69-61 in the first semifinal Saturday. “We did not play at our best tonight. We played good, but that wasn’t our best. You know what? So maybe Monday is our best. We’re just worried about us.”

Top-seeded Kentucky (37-2) is back in the title game for the first time since 1998, when it won its seventh NCAA championship.

Down 13 in the first half, resilient Kansas (32-6) needed a furious comeback against Ohio State to reach the championship game, where it will play for its fourth NCAA title.

“It’s a dream to play the best team in the country, who is up until now, hands down, the most consistent,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “It’s a thrill. And I think it’s even more of a thrill for us, because I don’t think anybody thought we could get here.”

That 2008 squad Calipari had in Memphis was stocked with talent, led by future NBA MVP Derrick Rose. But the Tigers missed four free throws down the stretch and blew a late nine-point lead in an overtime loss to Mario Chalmers and the Jayhawks.

These Wildcats, however, are in a totally different class. Anthony Davis has won just about every player of the year award there is, and Louisville coach Rick Pitino likened him to Bill Russell after Saturday night’s game.

No wonder. The 19-year-old doesn’t look like a freshman, and he certainly doesn’t play like one, recording his 20th double-double against Louisville with 18 points and 14 rebounds. He missed just one of his eight shots, and also had five blocks and a steal.

“Anthony Davis is as fine a basketball player as there is,” Pitino said.

Then there are the rest of the Wildcats.

They shot a blistering 57 percent Saturday night and had two other players besides Davis in double figures. Darius Miller scored 13 points and Doron Lamb added 10. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had nine despite playing just 23 minutes because of foul trouble.

“Kentucky is a great basketball team, with great effort,” Pitino said.