NEW ORLEANS – Four years ago in San Antonio as the head coach at Memphis, John Calipari watched a nine-point-lead with under two minutes to play slip away as Kansas rallied to tie the game before defeating his Tigers in overtime to win the National Championship. As Kentucky’s head coach on Monday night, history looked as though it may repeat itself for Calipari. This time, Calipari’s Wildcats forced timely turnovers and made five of their final six free throws to hold off Kansas and capture the 67-59 victory for their first national championship in 14 years.
Kentucky was in control early, building an 18-point first half lead. Kansas trailed by 13 in the first half of its Final Four victory over Ohio State on Saturday and drew to within 14 at halftime on Monday. Tyshawn Taylor’s lay-in at the first half buzzer made the score 41-27 at the half.
Kansas twice drew to within 10 midway through the second half; Taylor’s layup with 11:52 remaining cut the Kentucky lead to 48-38. Doron Lamb would answer with back-to-back triples for the Wildcats to push the lead back to 16.
Kentucky looked to be in control holding a 56-41 lead with under nine minutes to play, but Kansas mounted a 13-3 run led by Taylor and All-American Thomas Robinson. The Jayhawks twice had the basketball with a chance to make it a one-possession-game in the final minute, but turned the ball over on each occasion. Lamb hit a pair of free throws with 17 seconds left to ice the game for Kentucky.
Lamb led all scorers with 22 points; 12 of his 22 came in the first half. Kentucky also got 14 points from Marquis Teague and 11 from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Naismith Player of the Year, Anthony Davis, was scoreless in the first half and went more than 34 minutes without a field goal, but his presence was immense. Although Davis shot just 1-for-10 from the field, he finished the game with 16 rebounds, 6 blocks, 5 assists and 3 steals to go along with 6 points.
Taylor led Kansas with 19 points while Robinson finished with 18 and a game-high 17 rebounds. Elijah Johnson chipped in with 13 points for the Jayhawks.
For Calipari, it’s his first national title after taking both UMASS and Memphis to the Final Four. The championship for Kentucky is the school’s eighth. The appearance for Kansas was its third in the title game in the last nine years. The Jayhawks lost to Syracuse in 2003 and defeated Memphis in 2008.