- Illinois State Redbirds - November 30, 2015 - Rupp Arena - 7:00 PM EST - ESPN2
Every championship team is defined by championship moments. They happen behind closed doors in practices, during regular-season games, and, of course, in the championship game. For Monday night’s purpose, let’s take a look back at the key moments that led to UK’s eighth national championship.
With both teams feeling each other out in the early going, and after starting the game tied at 7-7 at the 15:46 mark, the Cats cut loose by going on a 27-12 run, giving Kentucky a 34-19 lead at the 6:31 mark of the first stanza. A Marquis Teague 3-pointer at the 7:18 mark gave UK its first double-digit lead of the game at 31-19.
Doron Lamb immediately followed Teague’s trey with one of his own, extending the Wildcat lead to 15 points at 34-19. It was just the beginning of Lamb’s hot-shooting night, as the sophomore led UK with 22 points.
“(Lamb’s) shoot-around today, I knew he’d have a big game,” John Calipari said. “I knew it.”
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who scored all 11 of his points in the first half, contributed eight points in UK’s 27-12 run.
Besides UK’s efficient first-half offense, Anthony Davis, who won the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award, blocked three first-half shots, with Terrence Jones and Darius Miller each added a swat.
Surprisingly absent from UK’s first-half scoring column was Davis, though, who, with his outstanding defense, didn’t have to score to make a difference for the Cats.
“I have to credit my team,” Davis said. “Everybody is talking about me, but it was my teammates” who carried me on the offensive end.
“At halftime, I knew he didn’t have a point,” Calipari said. “Before he left the locker room, I said, ‘Listen to me, don’t you go out there and try to score. If you have opportunities, score the ball. If you don’t, don’t worry about it.’ ”
Lamb redeems Cats
After UK pulled in front by 16, Kansas outscored the Cats 6-0 to get within 10 at 46-36 at the 12:27 mark. It was the closest KU had been to the Cats since UK led 28-19 with 8:16 left in the first half.
“I pulled the reins back a little bit and tried to get them going again, and they did fine and made plays,” Calipari said.
Lamb made, arguably, the two biggest offensive plays of the game. With KU threatening to come back, Lamb nailed a 3 from the left corner at the 10:38 mark. Thirty-three seconds later, he drilled one from right of the top of the key to push the lead back to 16.
“It feels great,” Lamb said. “My sophomore year, a championship, can’t get no better than that.”
Teague slows another KU run
Kansas wasn’t done yet, though.
From 10:05 until the 3:52 mark, KU slowly but surely chipped away at the Wildcat lead, going on a 14-5 run, culminated by Kansas’ All-American Thomas Robinson nailing two free throws, making the score 59-52 UK.
Teague may have provided the game’s dagger when, off a post feed from Davis (one of his team-high five assists), torched the twine from distance, giving the Cats some breathing room at 62-52 with 2:50 left in the game.
And that’s when the Cats defense kicked it into high gear.
Defensive game-sealing gems
Kentucky has been the best defensive team in the country this season. The Cats flexed those muscles in the final minutes.
First, Kansas point guard Taylor went back door on the baseline, seemingly beating Kidd-Gilchrist for a deuce, which would have brought KU to within four. But Kidd-Gilchrist, somehow, someway, recovered, and in as athletic a move as one is likely to witness, blocked the layup attempt at the rim.
“I just got beat on the back door,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I apologize, Coach.”
Pretty humble pie from a guy who made one of the plays of the game.
Taylor, who quickly gained possession of the ball after the MKG block, almost immediately turned it over due to the pressure provided by MKG and Davis. Taylor then fouled Teague and UK’s point sank both hugely important charity tries, giving the Cats a 65-57 advantage with 54 seconds remaining.
With 24 seconds left and Kentucky clinging to a 65-59 lead after a Taylor jumper, Davis forced an Elijah Johnson turnover as he, flying toward the shooter, caused Johnson to pull his shot back in mid-jump, coming down with the ball in his hands, traveling and giving UK the precious possession.
The nation’s best shot blocker, even when he wasn’t blocking shots, was altering them.
“I said this about a month ago, ‘What do you do to help us win, when you are not scoring baskets?’ and (Davis) does about 50 things,” Calipari said.
Asked if he was frustrated at the half, having scored no points, Davis answered like the unselfish, team-first player he is.
“No way,” Davis said. “I just told my teammates I am going to defend. I let my teammate do all the scoring, and I just focused on defense.”
Players-first approach adds memorable chapter to UK lore