Whitman Sports Blog: Kentucky wins NCAA DI national title

Pamela London

One shining moment and then it’s all over.

Five months of early morning practices, long road trips, blood, sweat and tears by the NCAA’s best collegiate men’s basketball programs led up to one defining moment, one defining game. In a tournament that saw thousands of brackets – mine included – busted during the round of 64 and injuries take its toll on tournament favorites, two long-standing powerhouses met Monday for the chance to take home the national title.

Each round of play saw tournament favorites drop. Teams set records all over the bracket, from individual stats to monumental wins. On day two, seven double-digit seeds pulled upsets. Going into the tournament only four 15-seeds had ever beaten a two-seed but in this edition of the tournament there was no telling what was going to happen. The last was in 2001 and this year Norfolk State took down Missouri. Instead of having to wait 11 more years for another 2-15 upset, we only had to wait three hours before Duke fell to Lehigh.

One-seed Syracuse also saw its title hopes end prematurely with a loss to Ohio State in the Elite 8. Many, however, saw this result coming after star 7-foot center Fab Melo was ruled ineligible on the eve of the tournament. North Carolina was another team to fall victim to losing players: the Tar Heels lost starting point guard Kendall Marshall to a broken wrist during their second-round win over Creighton.

After all the upsets, injuries and records, two teams were left standing. Kentucky versus Kansas for all the marbles: this was a showdown that may not have been the most popular prediction when the brackets were announced on Selection Sunday but it was quite the memorable game nonetheless.

The University of Kentucky out of the Southeastern Conference entered the 2012 NCAA tournament as the consensus number one overall seed. Led by first-year Anthony Davis and a slew of potential NBA lottery picks in the coming years, the Wildcats seemingly rolled through each of its six games, winning four games in a row by double digits before reaching the Final Four.

The University of Kansas entered the tournament as the number two seed in the Midwest Region. The Jayhawks out of the Big 12 Conference received an at-large bid into the tournament after falling in the Big 12 tournament semi-finals to Baylor. Prior to that loss to the eventual three-seed Bears, Kansas had reeled off nine wins in a row to finish out the season.

After Kentucky rolled over Kansas 75-65 in November at Madison Square Garden, not many experts gave the Jayhawks a chance. Before the championship game, eight of nine CBSsports.com writers picked Kentucky to win the title. Many others predicted a tight game but it seemed like it was simply in the cards for the Wildcats to finish off this season on top.

When the ball tipped off for the 2012 National Championship game, old friends and rivals John Calipari and Bill Self faced off on college basketball’s biggest stage.

Form the get-go, the Wildcats jumped out to an early lead and maintained a double-digit advantage from the 9:20 mark of the first half until the 4:17 mark in the second half.

Kansas, however, would not go away quietly. Mounting a furious rally in the waning stages of the game, the Jayhawks cut a 16-point Kansas lead down to five on two free throws by All-American Thomas Robinson with 1:38 to play.

But the comeback for the ages was not in the script. Kentucky made five of seven free throws in the final 90 seconds to conclude their magical season with a national title, the first of head coach Calipari’s career in Lexington.

That’s all she wrote: Kentucky 67, Kansas 59. Game, set and match to the Big Blue.

Sophomore Doron Lamb led Kentucky with 22 points. Sophomore Terrence Jones and first-year Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, two more of Lamb’s highly touted teammates, added nine and 11 points, respectively. Jones also had seven rebounds in what could have been his final game in a Kentucky uniform. Several Wildcats, including Jones, are predicted to declare for the NBA draft in the coming weeks.

Although Davis – who was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament after the championship game – had an off-shooting night and scored only six points, he impacted the title game just as he did the rest of the tournament: by making life in the paint a living hell for his opponents. Davis had 16 rebounds and six blocks. That gives him an NCAA first-year record 186 blocks for the season. The previous bar for a first-year was 182, set by Marshall University’s Hassin Whiteside in 2010. David Robinson continues to hold the all-time NCAA blocks record for a season with 207 set in 1985-86.

So ends another NCAA men’s basketball championship. A tournament that seemingly defined “bracket buster” in the opening rounds ended with two of the nation’s biggest powerhouses going toe to toe for the national title.

One moment for two teams to shine. At the end of the day, one took home the title.

Congratulations to the Kentucky Wildcats, 2012 NCAA tournament champions.