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Kidd-Gilchrist powers Cal and the Cats to second straight Final Four

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Michael Kidd-Gilchrist earned South Region Most Outstanding Player honors. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist earned South Regional Most Outstanding Player honors. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ATLANTA - It would have been easy for Kentucky to look past Baylor and ahead to a Final Four matchup with archrival Louisville. It would have been just as easy to fall victim to a Bears squad just as athletic and just as talented as the Wildcats.

But this group has more important things on its mind. Getting back to the Final Four for a second straight year and 15th time in program history means a lot, but the Cats are out for more this season.

"All that amount of work that we put in that whole year and we lost like that," said senior Darius Miller, referencing last year's loss to Connecticut in the Final Four. "(We) didn't end the season on a win. It really hurt us. We know how it feels to lose and we don't want to feel that way again."

Kentucky is set on winning its eighth national championship, and no potential traps like looking ahead to U of L or roadblocks like Baylor were going to get in the way on Sunday.

"I'm not satisfied yet," said Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who had a game-high 19 points.

In what was supposed to be a matchup of arguably the two most athletically gifted teams in the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky was the superior team in the South Regional finals. The Cats steamrolled third-seeded Baylor 72-60 in the Georgia Dome, setting up date with Louisville in the Final Four in New Orleans, a script that Hollywood's best writers couldn't come up with.

"I'm going to enjoy this," said John Calipari, immediately downplaying the matchup with the Cardinals. "I'm not worried about who we're playing. I'm just happy we're still playing."

Coach Cal's pretty happy with how they're playing as well.

After falling behind by five in the opening minutes, Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones orchestrated a staggering 16-0 Kentucky run to take control of Sunday's game. Outscoring Baylor 37-12 after the 10-5 deficit, the Cats took a 42-22 lead at halftime and hardly looked back.

Jones dished out a career-high six assists in the first half alone and finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Kidd-Gilchrist, with a much smaller defender on him, scored 17 points during the dominating first stanza, killing Baylor in transition and at the foul line.

"I saw the mismatch and I just took advantage of the opportunity," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I didn't think I would have that chance, but it was just there."

After a sluggish first two rounds in the tournament, the freshman forward from Somerdale, N.J., turned it on in Atlanta this weekend, scoring 43 points in wins over Baylor and Indiana. Now he's headed to his first career Final Four.

"It is a dream come true and for this whole team," said Kidd-Gilchrist, the South Region's Most Outstanding Player.

Kentucky was in a dreamlike groove in the first half. After missing eight of their first 11 shots, the Cats hit 11 straight field goals over a stretch of more than 10 minutes. When Miller finally missed a jumper with 4:32 left in the half, UK was already in front by 19 points.

Coach Cal was more proud of the defensive effort his team put together during that stretch. Outside of Quincy Acy, UK held the Bears' stars in check in the first half, limiting Baylor to 32.0 percent in the first 20 minutes.

"Really proud of these guys," Calipari said. "The first half was a great defensive performance and I told them after the game, I pulled back the reins a little bit trying to just get out of the gym, and (it was) probably a mistake."

Baylor cut into UK's lead when Anthony Davis, who has already raked in a handful of national player of the year awards, went down with a knee injury early in the second half. Driving to the basket, the freshman forward banged knees with Perry Jones III and laid on the court in pain for roughly a minute before being helped off the court.

As trainers rubbed his knee and Davis grimaced on the bench, the 24,035 blue-clad fans in the Georgia Dome fell silent. He returned to the game not even two minutes later, but he there was a noticeable limp in his run and he often grimaced in pain.

"Knee is doing fine," Davis said. "I just bumped knees with Perry Jones and it started hurting real bad, but I knew my team needed me to play. I wasn't going to sit out, especially with a trip to the Final Four (on the line). All of us want to go to the Final Four."

With his 19th career double of the season (18 points and 11 rebounds) and the Southeastern Conference single-season blocked shots record (he broke Jarvis Varnado's mark on Sunday), that's exactly where he's headed.

"It's a great feeling to be part of something special and go to the Final Four," Davis said. "It's everyone's college dream. For us to make it, it was great."

Baylor got as close as 10 in the final minutes as Davis struggled to gain full mobility, but Doron Lamb scored 14 points after halftime and UK hit 23-of-34 free throws in the second half to hold off any comeback attempt.

"I told them at halftime they're going to make a run," Calipari said. "You know they're going to make a run, and then we'll make a run, they'll make a run, we'll make a run and the game will be over. Just don't panic."

The Wildcats never did.

"This team hasn't been rattled all year," Coach Cal said. "We've had teams come at us and play absolutely out of their minds, but to do it for 40 minutes is a little tougher."

The trip back to New Orleans will mark Calipari's fourth Final Four visit. Sunday was also his 100th victory as UK's coach.

"It's all about our team," Calipari said.

Now, the only thing that stands in their way and the national championship game is their archrival Louisville. With the two teams facing off in the Final Four for the first time, the game will surely be the most hyped in the series' storied history.

Calipari urged fans after the game to not let the matchup become bigger than it is. He said he'll tell his players to get off Facebook and Twitter this week, and the preparation for his staff will not change.

"We're going back to New Orleans to play a basketball game," Calipari said. "Forget about this tournament. Let's just go be as good as we can be as a team. If that's not good enough, then the season ends there. But let's just worry about us, and that's what we're going to do. We won't change."

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