The Super Bowl will always be America’s biggest single event, but as far as sports events go, the NCAA Final Four is creeping up on America’s Game. While traversing the French Quarter, Canal Street, French Market and sipping on tea at the Café Du Monde, it became quite evident that the NCAA college basketball tournament continues to elevate itself.
The Final Four collective of Ohio State, Louisville, Kansas and Kentucky with their school colors dominating and with unabated enthusiasm the greater New Orleans area for five days was a sight to see and hear.
However, in the end it was the Kentucky Wildcats that dominated the Kansas Jayhawks in the national championship contest. By the 3-minute mark in the first half, the Wildcats had built up a commanding 37-21 lead, eventually taking a 41-27 advantage into halftime.
Kansas, showing the grit of a champion, came back at the start of the second half, cutting the margin to 41-30, but Kentucky built it back up to 46-30. The Jayhawks made another run getting it back to 44-54, but again Kentucky countered, taking a 59-44 lead. But oh no . . . these Jayhawks have nine lives. On the strength of a Tyshawn Taylor three-pointer and an old fashioned three play Kansas got it to nine. Then five (62-58) with 1:37 left in the game.
But eventually the Wildcats held them at bay and hung on for their eighth NCAA title with the exciting 67-59 win. They now only trail UCLA’s 12 titles. Kentucky also holds NCAA Tournament records for appearances (52) and tournament games (156) and is second to UCLA in Final Four wins (18), also.
The match-up of Kentucky and Kansas was indeed a clash of college basketball royalty. Kansas’ program was founded by the inventor of basketball, James Naismith, in 1898. Overall, the university has won five national titles. On the other hand, Kentucky has the most all-time wins in college basketball.
I give Coach Jon Calipari tremendous credit and respect for molding those young men into a cohesive team.
The best talent or team does not always win. Basketball is a team sport and Calipari put together these young men who brought him his first NCAA title.
Calipari’s group of three freshman and two sophomores were indeed a unique collective. Watching the pre-game introductions I was surprised how calm they were. They calmly walked on the floor without any chest bumping or jumping up and down. They had the look of a group that was approaching this task as business as usual.
Kentucky tied an NCAA single-season record with its 38th victory and finished 38-2. Calipari also led Memphis to a 38-2 record in 2008.
“This win was not about me,” Calipari said. “This was about these young me on the podium with me. They put in the effort and work. This is also about the Big Blue Nation and this university.”
Said Anthony Davis, who became only the fourth freshman to win the Most Outstanding Player: “I got this award, but you see how my teammates came through when I was struggling with my shot. I just told them to play their games and I would concentrate on rebounding and defending.”
That Davis did, scoring only six points, but had game highs in assist (5), rebounds (16) and blocks (6).
What a venue for the 2012 national basketball championships! The Superdome after all is where Muhammad Ali famously avenged his loss to Leon Spinks in 1978. It’s where Michael Jordan’s legend began as he sank a jumper and Georgetown’s national title hopes in 1982. And it’s where a record six NFL Super Bowls, four NCAA Final Fours, and two BCS National Championships have all made history.
Following the inventive lead of Detroit’s Ford Field stadium designers, and buoyed by the largest crowd in a NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball National Championship Game — 72,922 at Ford Field in 2009 — now all the NCAA title games have the floor positioned in the middle of the field.
Detroit now stands third following Houston and now New Orleans, who drew 73,361 Saturday.
Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII