It was about Kentucky in October when 340 teams started practicing but only one of them started practicing with a starting lineup of five possible first-round draft picks with a sixth possible first-rounder coming off the bench. It was about Kentucky in November when the Wildcats beat Kansas at Madison Square Garden, and it was about Kentucky in December when the Wildcats beat North Carolina. And it was even about Kentucky one week later when Indiana beat the Wildcats at the buzzer.
Did you hear what happened last night in Bloomington? Kentucky lost!
It was about Kentucky. It was always about Kentucky, into January when the Wildcats jetted to the top of the SEC and stayed there, into February when Anthony Davis jetted to the top of the national player of the year conversation and stayed there, and into March when someone else won the SEC tournament. Any idea who won it? Nah, I bet most of you don't recall, because it wasn't news that Vanderbilt won the SEC title game. It was news that Kentucky lost it.
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The NCAA tournament began, and it was all Kentucky, all the time. This tournament didn't do anything to take the spotlight off Kentucky, giving us no buzzer-beaters, no monster individual performances, no small-school darlings making a run at the Final Four. In the absence of George Mason or Butler or VCU, we had Kentucky and Kentucky and Kentucky.
We had Anthony Davis' long arms and longer eyebrow. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's endless energy and charm. Marquis Teague at the point, Doron Lamb at shooting guard. And Terrence Jones going from preseason SEC Player of the Year to the third-leading scorer on his own team, and handling it just fine. Darius Miller, the senior who had been starting since his sophomore season, coming off the bench and handling that just fine. All of them chasing their own place in beloved Kentucky lore, right up there with the 'Fiddlin' Five' and 'Rupp's Runts' and those seven national championship teams who came before them.
John Calipari chasing his own title, even as he said it wasn't about him. Whether he likes it or not, it was about him. It was always about him like it was always about Kentucky.
Which is why I've written half this story and barely written the word "Kansas." Because this game was like this tournament which was like this season: It wasn't about anyone but Kentucky, and while Kansas had the opportunity Monday night to rewrite that script, the Jayhawks couldn't do it. Simply because Kentucky wouldn't let them do it.
For the second game in a row, Kentucky allowed its opponent to score the first basket of the game. For the second game in a row, it was pretty much over after that. Kentucky trailed 2-0 and then Kentucky led 17-9 and then it was 27-17 and then it was 39-21 and then it was just a matter of figuring out the final margin. Not sure I've written it yet, since this game was never really about that, but let me look. Here it is: Kentucky beat Kansas 67-59 on Monday night.
Kentucky took Thomas Robinson out of the game early with the muscle of Jones and the help-side shot blocking of Davis. Robinson finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds, but it was a quiet 18 and 17. It wasn't an 18 and 17 that anyone will talk about today or remember tomorrow because it happened for Kansas, and this game wasn't about Kansas.
Kentucky overwhelmed Kansas with too much speed, too much size, too many athletes, too many shooters, too much intensity and too much coaching. Too much of everything, everyone, everywhere. Kansas' only chance had nothing to do with Kansas, but with Kentucky. Kansas' only chance was the same thing as Louisville's only chance in the national semifinal -- to hope that three or four of Kentucky's six-man core had a bad game. Louisville actually got that result, with Kentucky getting good games from only Anthony Davis, Darius Miller and (in the second half) Terrence Jones. That was enough to keep Louisville within eight points at the final margin, which was about as good as Saturday night was ever going to be for Louisville.
Kansas had no such luck Monday night. Late in the first half it dawned on me that all six of Kentucky's regulars were having a good game. All but one of them were shooting 50 percent or better from the floor, and the one straggler was the guy who would be named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, because Anthony Davis doesn't need to hit half of his shots -- or any of his shots -- to be the most dominant player on the court. And so it was Monday night, when Davis was 1 of 10 from the floor, surely becoming the first Final Four MOP to go 1 of 10 in the title game. Davis didn't shoot well but he did everything else well, finishing with 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and three steals.
Davis was the best player in the Final Four just as he was the best player on the season. He'll be drafted first overall in the 2012 draft if he decides to enter it, just as Kidd-Gilchrist would possibly be taken second, Jones in the lottery and Lamb, Teague and Miller somewhere in the first round. If everyone turns pro that could turn pro, the 2012 NBA Draft will be all about Kentucky, which would make it just like the national title game and the Final Four and the NCAA tournament and the whole damn 2011-12 college basketball season.
So as you reach the end of this story and are wondering why I didn't spend more time answering the nuts-and-bolts question -- Why did Kentucky win on Monday night? -- I'll give you the most honest answer I can.
Kentucky won because Kentucky played.