Big Easy road trip not tough for ’Cats
Posted: Monday, March 26, 2012 7:00 pm
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — Kentucky could’ve cut the nets down at halftime.
Actually, the Wildcats probably would’ve been good skipping the ceremony altogether.
A South Regional title is fine, but what matters to this bunch of future NBA stars is breaking out the scissors in the Big Easy.
Top-seeded Kentucky advanced to the Final Four for the second year in a row with a 82-70 blitzing of Baylor, setting up a Bluegrass showdown with rival Louisville in the national semifinals Saturday at New Orleans.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 19 points, Anthony Davis added 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Terrence Jones dazzled in all the overlooked areas to lead the Wildcats (36-2) on Sunday. For all the hoopla sure to surround the next game in its basketball-crazed state, Kentucky won’t consider the season a success unless it wins two more games — culminating in a national title.
“I’m not satisfied yet,” Kidd-Gilchrist said.
This group sure has the look of a champion, shaking off an early blow by the Bears (30-8) — a very good team with a daring fashion sense that was simply no match for coach John Calipari’s latest group of Fab Freshmen. Kentucky took control with an early 16-0 run and led by 20 at halftime.
“This team is better than I thought,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “This is the best team we faced all year … probably in a couple of years.”
Two years ago, Baylor lost to eventual national champion Duke in another regional final.
“Duke was a good team,” Drew said, “but Kentucky is better.”
The Wildcats beat Louisville 69-62 on New Year’s Eve, but now they’ll meet with the highest stakes ever. Kidd-Gilchrist shrugged when someone asked about playing the Cardinals.
“I’m just worried about us,” he said. “That’s it. I don’t worry about anybody else.”
Calipari, in his third season at Kentucky, just keeps recruiting the best high school players in the land, molds them into a top team, then sends most of ‘em on to the NBA.
Then he starts the whole process over again.
“There are some opinions that will never change,” Calipari said. “All I’m trying to do is coach these young people. I’m trying to do the best job for these kids and their families.”
Two years ago, John Wall led Kentucky to the regional final. Last season, Brandon Knight helped guide the Wildcats to the Final Four. Now, with those guys in the NBA and Kidd-Gilchrist and Davis stopping off for what could be their only season in Lexington, Big Blue has a shot at what those last two teams failed to do — bringing Kentucky its first national title since 1998.
But for all the talk about Calipari’s one-and-done tactics, he’s getting plenty of contributions from those who hung around beyond their freshmen year. Take Jones, a sophomore forward who passed up the draft. He scored just one point in the opening half, but his fingerprints were all over Kentucky’s dominating performance: nine rebounds, six assists, three blocks and two steals and — most in the first 10 minutes.
“I was just trying to be aggressive early,” Jones said. “That allowed me to get in great position for rebounds and to lead the fast break.”
Then there’s Darius Miller, one of only two seniors on the roster. He gave up his starting role to Kidd-Gilchrist in this one — Kentucky essentially has six starters — but added four points, two assists and two steals in the first-half blowout.
At one point, Kidd-Gilchrist had as many points as Baylor’s entire team: 17 apiece. Kentucky led 42-22 at the break and Baylor never got any closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
“It’s kind of hard to play us,” Davis said. “We’re very long and very athletic. It makes it tough on the other team.”
The Wildcats left New Orleans earlier this month disappointed with a loss in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
That one’s long forgotten.
Kansas 80, No. Caro. 67
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Tyshawn Taylor has yet to hit a 3-pointer in the NCAA tournament. Something about playing in domes, perhaps.
The Kansas guard did more than enough without the long-range touch that he can laugh about that 0-for-17 drought. The Jayhawks are in the Final Four, bound for the Superdome in New Orleans.
“I don’t like domes. But you know what, domes love me,” Taylor said after second-seeded Kansas made all the plays late in an 80-67 victory over top-seeded North Carolina in the Midwest Regional final on Sunday. “Because we won, you know.
“Is New Orleans a dome, too?”
Kansas (31-6), which picked up steam after a 7-3 start, will play Ohio State on Saturday in its first Final Four appearance since winning the 2008 national championship. No matter that oddsmakers have made them the third choice.
“I don’t know if I ever enjoyed coaching a team more than this one,” coach Bill Self said. “I love them. We fight, it’s combative sometimes, all those things.
“But I love coaching these guys.”
Taylor scored 22 points despite going 0-for-5 from 3-point range, and was all over the score sheet in the last 4 minutes with a three-point play, a steal, two rebounds and an assist on a 3-pointer.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
Published in The Messenger 3.26.12