Freshman phenoms Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were headline-grabbers from the moment they set foot on campus. Darius Miller was UK's steady senior leader who went from passing up every big shot to the serving as Wildcats' crunch-time killer. Terrence Jones weathered December struggles en route to approaching his nearly limitless potential down the stretch. Marquis Teague was the latest in John Calipari's long line of freshman point guards.
Among the six players John Calipari calls his starters, there's only one player missing in that above group: Doron Lamb. Lamb, UK's second-leading scorer, simply went about his business while attention went to his talented teammates.
John Calipari, though, sensed Lamb was going to be impossible to ignore when the spotlight shone brightest for the national championship game.
"At the shoot-around, when I watched him, I said he'd get (25 points) tonight," Calipari said.
Lamb had to settle for 22.
"It feels great," Lamb said. "My sophomore year, a championship, my (freshman year) to the Final Four, can't get no better than that."
He led all scorers in a 67-59 win over Kansas in the national championship game, connecting on 7-of-12 field-goal attempts and 3-of-6 3s. Lamb played the way he's capable of playing, the way Calipari demanded for every second of his two years as a Wildcat.
"He is as good as any guard in the country when his motor is moving," Calipari said. "He can play multiple positions. He shoots it. He makes free throws. He's good with the ball. He's crafty."
Lamb was important as UK built a lead over the Jayhawks that ballooned to 18 points in the first half, but he was more instrumental as Kansas made its run down the stretch. Nearly midway through the second half, Kansas was on an 8-2 run to trim UK's lead to 48-38. Lamb then drained back-to-back 3s in 33 seconds to lift the lead by to 16 in the blink of an eye.
Kansas, though, true to the form it has shown all NCAA Tournament, wouldn't go away, cutting UK's lead to five points with 1:37 left, but the Cats held on. Fittingly, Lamb scored the last two points of the college basketball season on a pair of calmly drained free throws.
"I don't care who gets the spotlight really," Lamb said. "I just go out there and play hard and try to win the game."
No points, no problem: Davis dominates in bizarre fashion
The consensus national player of the year scored six points on just 1-for-10 shooting in the season's biggest game. Under normal circumstances, that star would be described as having choked.
Fortunately for him and his team, Anthony Davis is anything but normal.
In spite of making less than 40 percent of his field goals for the first time in his college career, Davis was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.
Outside of that shooting performance, Davis was outstanding in nearly every way imaginable. As has been his custom, the forward anchored a Kentucky defense with six blocks, tying a record for a national championship game. He was also the man primarily responsible for UK's 43-35 edge on the glass, grabbing 16 rebounds, 12 of which came on the defensive end. Davis also added a team-high five assists.
"About a month ago, I looked at them all and said, 'Tell me what you do to help us win when you're not scoring balls,' " Calipari said. "You saw (that) today with him."
"It's not hard to take a backseat, especially with playing with a great group of guys," Davis said. "All these guys could play. I knew I was struggling, so I told them, 'I'm going to defend and rebound, you all make all the points.' "
A couple months back, ESPN commentator Dick Vitale proffered the idea that Davis could complete an unprecedented grand slam of achievements (national player of the year, defensive player of the year, freshman of the year and No. 1 overall pick in the draft). The fourth of those is still for the taking, but Davis' MOP honors beg the question: What do you call a five-run home run?
Dominant finish to dominant season
Where this UK squad stands subjectively among past great college basketball teams is for others to debate, but the Cats' NCAA Tournament run has been quite remarkable.
Kentucky's average margin of victory of 11.8 points doesn't approach the 21.5-point average of the 1995-96 UK team that holds the record since the tournament expanded to six games, but winning every game by at least eight points is a serious feat in light of the parity that marks college basketball today. Also, consider that UK held significantly larger leads than the final deficit in games against Western Kentucky, Baylor, Louisville and Kansas, and the Cats may have come close to matching their UK predecessors.
To the end, Cats break records
Scarcely a game this season has passed without UK taking down some school, conference or national record, and the season's final game was no different. Here's a list of achievements logged on Monday night:
- Miller played in his 152nd career game, breaking Wayne Turner's school record of 151
- Miller also became the first player in UK history to win a national title, a Kentucky high school Sweet 16 title and Kentucky Mr. Basketball. The only player at any school to do the same is Darrell Griffith of Louisville.
- Lamb became the 60th Wildcat to eclipse 1,000 points for his UK career. He now sits in 55th in UK history with 1,018 points. He is the third player to reach the milestone in 2011-12, joining Jones and Miller.
- Davis, beyond tying the title-game record for blocks, now owns the record for most blocks in NCAA history for a freshman. He finished with 186 rejections on the season, posting at least two in every game.
Lamb, MKG join Davis on all-tournament team
In addition to Davis earning the Most Outstanding Player award, Lamb and Kidd-Gilchrist were also on the Final Four All-Tournament Team. Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor of Kansas rounded out the five-man group.