Calipari gets his title as Kentucky defeats Kansas

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Calipari gets his title as Kentucky defeats Kansas

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Won and Done, indeed. Maybe even Over and Out. All that really matters is that Kentucky parlayed a roster full of NBA talent into a 67-59 victory Monday night over Kansas for the team's eighth national NCAA basketball title -- its first since 1998. Kentucky's top freshman, Anthony Davis, had a rough shooting night, but John Calipari coached this team to a wire-to-wire victory -- a little dicey at the end -- to cap a season that cried for no less than a championship for their ol' Kentucky home. "I wanted everybody to see, we were the best team this season," said the coach who finally has the championship that eluded him for all these years. "We were the best team. I wanted this to be one for the ages." Doron Lamb, a sophomore with first-round-draft-pick possibilities, led the Wildcats (38-2) with 22 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers that put them up by 16 with 10 minutes left. The Jayhawks (32-7), kings of the comeback all season, fought to the finish and trimmed that deficit to five with 1:37 left. But Kentucky made five free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Davis' fellow lottery prospect, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, was another headliner, creating space for himself to score all 11 of his points in the first half. Davis, meanwhile, might have had the most dominating six-point night in the history of college basketball, earning the nod as the most outstanding player. He finished with 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and three steals -- and made his only field goal with 5:13 left in the game. It was a surefire illustration of how the 6-foot-10 freshman can exert his will on a game even on a rare night when the shot isn't falling. "Well, it's not me, it's these guys behind me," Davis said after his 1-for-10 performance. "They led us this whole tournament. This whole game I was struggling offensively, and I told my team, every time down, you all score the ball; I'm just gonna defend and rebound." So much easier when you've got teammates like this. Davis is the likely first pick in the draft, though he said he hasn't decided yet whether he will come out, and Kidd-Gilchrist won't be far behind. Another first-round prospect, freshman Marquis Teague, had 14 points. And yet another, sophomore Terrence Jones, had nine points, seven rebounds and two of Kentucky's 11 blocked shots. "I love the fact Anthony Davis goes 1 for 10, and you all say he was biggest factor of game," Calipari said. "He was 1 for 10. I asked these guys what they would do without scoring. You have an idea what he does." Kansas also has a lottery pick in AP All-American Thomas Robinson. He was harassed all night by Davis and Jones and finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds on a 6-for-17 shooting night. He left upset, though not overly impressed with Davis, who he'll certainly see in "the association" over the next several years. "He's not Superman," Robinson said. "He's just a great player. I don't mean to be disrespectful by it, but as a competitor I'm not going to sit here and give all my praise to someone I go up against." The Jayhawks won the "B" League this year, as Calipari avenged a final-game loss to Bill Self back in 2008 when Cal was coaching Memphis. The Tigers missed four late free throws in blowing a nine-point lead in that one. Kansas didn't get any such help this time. Even so, it wasn't a bad season in Lawrence, considering where KU began. Kansas lost four of its top five scorers off last year's roster. There were times early in the season when Self and his old buddy and mentor, Larry Brown, would stand around at practices and wonder if this was a team that could even make the tournament. It did. Won its eighth straight conference title, too. "Nobody even expected us to be here in the first place, for us to have a great season," KU guard Travis Releford said. "And we did. We were able to compete for a championship. We had a great year." None of this, however, was for the faint of heart. The Jayhawks trailed by double digits in three of their five tournament games leading to the final and played every game down to the wire. They fell behind by 18 late in the first half of this one and this time, there was no big comeback to be made; not against these guys. "We knew coming in that we had been in situations like that before," Releford said. "We played like that all year. We figured we'd come out in the second half and run how we did. It just wasn't good enough." Davis realized early this was no shoot-first night for him at the Superdome, and Calipari all but told him to cool it at halftime. "I said, Listen to me, don't you go out there and try to score,'" the coach said. The freshman listened. Sporting his near-unibrow, which the UK Wildcat mascot also decided to paste on, he endured the worst shooting night of a short college career in which he makes 64 percent. No big deal. He set the tone early on defense, swatting Robinson's shot twice, grabbing rebounds, making pretty bounce passes for assists. Early in the second half, he made a steal that also could have been an assist, knocking the ball out of Robinson's hands and directly to Jones, who dunked for a 46-30 lead. Then, finally. With 5:13 left in the game, he spotted up for a 15-foot jumper from the baseline that swished for a 59-44 lead, putting a dagger in one of Kansas' many comebacks. "He was terrific," Self said. "The basket he made was one of the biggest baskets of the game." The crowd, a little more full of Kentucky fans than Kansas, went crazy. If this guy only stays one year and only makes one shot, they're fine with that. It's the new normal at Kentucky, where Adolph Rupp set a standard, Rick Pitino lived up to it for a while, then Calipari -- hardly the buttoned-down type -- was hired to bring back the glory. He goes for the best player, no matter what their long-term goals. Normally, the prospect of losing all those players in one swoop would have people thinking about a tough rebuilding year. But Cal has mastered the art of rebuilding on the fly. He's the coach who brings in the John Walls, Brandon Knights and Derrick Roses (at Memphis) for cups of coffee, lets them sharpen up their resumes, then happily says goodbye when it becomes obvious there's nothing left for them to do in school. Last year, the formula resulted in a trip to the Final Four that ended with a crushing loss to Connecticut in the semifinals. This year, Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and the rest came to Lexington with big-time bona-fides, and they didn't disappoint. Kentucky lost only twice all season -- once on a buzzer-beater at Indiana, the second time last month in the SEC tournament title game to Vanderbilt, in the arena across the way from the Superdome. That trip to New Orleans might have been, as Calipari put it, just what the doctor ordered for a team that could sometimes border on arrogance. They rebounded nicely for the real tournament, and through it all, the coach refused to apologize for the way he recruits or how he runs his program. Just playing by the rules as they're set up, he says, even if he doesn't totally agree with them. Because he refuses to promise minutes or shots to any recruit and demands teamwork out of all of them, he says he comes by these players honestly. He has produced nine first-round picks in the last four drafts with a few more coming. This latest group will have an NCAA title in tow and the everlasting love of a fan base that bleeds basketball. When it was over, all that Kentucky talent ran to the corner of the court, got in a group huddle and jumped up and down like the kids they really are. Will Calipari coach any of them again? "What I'm hoping is there are six first-rounders on this team," the coach said. "I'm fine with that. That's why I've got to go recruiting on Friday."

Haggerty: Rask puts up, makes critics shut up

Haggerty: Rask puts up, makes critics shut up

BOSTON -- The decision to sit out Saturday night's game against the Islanders, for whatever issue needed healing, worked wonders for Tuukka Rask.

Rask looked fresh, strong and determined while stopping 24 of 25 shots in a 4-1 win over Nashville on Tuesday night, and, at the very least, temporarily quieting talk of his missing Saturday's win over the Islanders because of a lower-body injury that wasn't disclosed until the day of the game. It also snapped his personal four-game losing streak, in which Rask had allowed 15 goals on 95 shots (an .842 save percentage) and hit rock bottom while surrendering a couple of damaging soft goals in last week's loss to the Lightning.

After watching Anton Khudobin battle, brawl and double-pad-stack his way to a huge win in Brooklyn on Saturday, Rask played with his own battling style Tuesday, fighting through Nashville attackers as he limited the the Preds to one goal.

"I loved [his battle]," said interim coach Bruce Cassidy. "He really worked hard to find pucks in traffic. They created some good opportunities, and even the goal against, he found it. They just tipped it at eye level so it was going to be a tough one, and we need to be better in the shooting lane on that one.

"But I thought he was terrific, very pleased with his performance. If you've got to track pucks, you've got to find pucks and you've got to fight through bodies, and he did a real good job with it.

"I thought we played well in front of him, but when we broke down it seemed to be in those areas where we couldn't break the puck up below our goal line. [There were] lot of bodies, a lot of point shots. This is the type of team, [Ryan] Ellis, [P.K.] Subban, [Roman] Josi, they rely on that part of the game and traffic. It was going to be a test for [the defense] there. I thought [Rask] answered the bell and in a terrific manner."

There were no two ways about it, Rask was truly excellent in a game where he had to be.

He made a save in the second period on Viktor Arvidsson when a David Backes turnover at the half-wall gave Arvidsson a wide open look at the net, and made 9 of his 24 saves in the third period as the Predators ramped up the desperation once Craig Smith had broken through on a tipped Josi shot. He also was the beneficiary of 24 blocked shots from the defenders in front of him. Adam McQuaid had five of the blocks all by himself,  absorbing all kinds of bumps and bruises in the process.

It was clear that the Bruins, as a team, were in late-season urgency mode.

"Well, we needed [a win]," said Rask. "Personally, I mean, I've lost four games but played a couple good games there, and we just didn't get the bounces. But we kind of got in winning habits there in [Broooklyn] and me stepping in here, I just wanted to make sure that I gave us a chance to win. The guys did the rest. So, it was a great team effort today, I think. As I said before, we blocked a lot of shots, which is huge."

So does one solid performance mean everything is settled for the B's No. 1 netminder after sitting out last weekend?

It certainly goes a long way toward putting some distance between Rask and whatever lower-body injury popped up and then disappeared just as quickly, and it puts a bit more of an optimistic spin for the remainder of the season. Rask didn't actively listen to any of the criticism of the last couple of days, but he fully understands that it comes along with the territory of being the No. 1 goalie in a city that takes hockey seriously.

"I can't do anything about what people say," said Rask, who took a pretty good hit on a Predators drive to the net in the third period but kept right on trucking. "I'm not staying home because I want to say home. I'm not playing because I don't want to play. I don't think any athlete does that. Obviously what's happened where I missed a game [vs. Ottawa] last year, people are going to talk about it. That's just the nature of media people, and what they talk about. It's fine.

"[All you can do is] you try not to read any of it, you stay even-keeled and you play the game the right way."

But the bottom line is the Bruins need much more of what they saw from Rask on Tuesday -- determined, tough-minded, a strong No. 1 goalie -- in the final six games if they want to be a playoff team this year.

He played well enough in the first few months, carrying the Bruins through the early portion of the season, to make people forget about calling in sick against Ottawa in the final game of last season. That's to Rask's credit. But last weekend's action, or lack of it, brought some of those same nagging questions back. He needs to build on Tuesday's encouraging performance to continue instilling confidence that he's a big-time No. 1 goalie.

Morning Wrap: Looking at C's potential first-round foes

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Morning Wrap: Looking at C's potential first-round foes

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