NEW ORLEANS -- The Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four made one of 10 shots in the national title game. How does that happen? Ballot-box stuffing? Dangling chads?
Kentucky center Anthony Davis had the worst shooting night of his (likely finished) college career in the Wildcats' 67-59 win Monday, and he still dominated Kansas. He scored only six points, but he grabbed 16 rebounds, dished out five assists, blocked six shots and stole the ball three times.
There are 13 categories on an official NCAA box score, and Davis stuffed quite a few columns. But there is no column marked PBAFPWGRAGL (Poked Ball Away From Player Who Grabbed Rebound And Got Lazy). Nor is there a column marked TSIT (Terrified Shooter Into Traveling). Davis did both of those things at critical moments Monday, and even if he wasn't officially credited for them, everyone noticed.
"About a month ago, I looked at them all and I said, 'Tell me what you do to help us win when you're not scoring balls,'" Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "You saw today with him."
With 3:33 remaining in the first half, Davis had eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks. The entire Kansas team had 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Kentucky led by 16.
At the half, Davis had zero points. Calipari pulled his star aside for some advice.
"Before he left the locker room, I said, 'Listen to me, don't you now go out there and try to score. If you have opportunities, score the ball. If you don't, don't worry about it. You're the best player in the building, so don't worry,'" Calipari said while seated alongside Davis at the postgame press conference. "I think he went out and shot the first three balls."
"I was open," Davis said, smiling.
"I know why you were open," Calipari replied. "You were one for 10. They were leaving you open."
After one of those Davis misses, Kansas forward Thomas Robinson grabbed the rebound and looked up the court. He didn't notice Davis behind him. Davis popped the ball from Robinson's grip, and Kentucky forward Terrence Jones scooped up the ball and dunked it. At the time of the larceny, Kentucky had scored only three points in the first five minutes of the second half.
"We actually guarded him pretty good," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "[Center] Jeff [Withey] did a good job on him. Thomas did a good job on him. He just impacts the game so much with his length and he's so quick."
Late in the half, as Kansas tried to cut into Kentucky's lead, the 6-foot-10 Davis finally made a field goal. It probably left NBA scouts panting. "He made that face-up 18-footer on the baseline," Self said. "He's terrific. He's terrific. Seeing him in person late in the season as opposed to early in the season, you can tell how much he's improved."
Davis did most of his dominating on the defensive end. He kept his blocks in play to help start fast breaks, and his mere presence caused several Jayhawks to reconsider their choice to shoot.
The most important instance of Davis intimidation came with 23.5 seconds remaining. Kansas had cut the lead to six, and Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague had just missed the front-end of a one-and-one. Kansas guard Elijah Johnson shed defender Doron Lamb and rose to shoot from the left side. Suddenly, an eclipse with a unibrow appeared. Johnson decided not to shoot and dropped the ball. When he tried to dribble, he was whistled for traveling.
"I could have let him block it and take the ball out right there," Johnson said. "But I felt like I let the ball go. That was the only reaction that I really had because I had left the floor already. Like I said, the reaction time for them... I think it was Lamb, [Davis] bailed him out because of his size and his length."
Johnson still wasn't sure he traveled on the play. "I want to see that play so bad, but the referee did a good job. No disrespect to the referee. He had to make a call," Johnson said. "He made the one he thought was best. I just didn't feel like it was a travel. But I don't know." To make matters worse, when Johnson fired the ball as the whistle sounded, it sailed through the hoop. "I actually made that shot, too," Johnson said with an if-you-don't-laugh-you'll-cry chuckle. "That was going to be the big shot."
Such is the power of Davis. Without even touching the ball or recording an official statistic, he turned the final seconds of the national title game from a tight, one-possession affair to an extended coronation. Davis didn't give the Wildcats many buckets on Monday, but he did give them a title.
"It's not hard to take a backseat, especially playing with a great group of guys," Davis said. "All these guys could play. I knew I was struggling. So I told to them, 'I'm going to defend and rebound. You all make all the points.'"