College Hoops Player of the Day for Saturday, March 31, 2012
National Semi-Final: Kentucky 79 Louisville 71 - The highly-anticipated Final Four meeting between Louisville and Kentucky lived up to its billing, but in the end, Kentucky forward Anthony Davis proved virtually unstoppable.
Kentucky led almost the entire game, though the Cardinals mounted a second-half rally that eventually tied the game, but the Wildcats always had an answer, even under pressure situations. Usually, that answer was Davis, who led the Wildcats with 19 points and 14 rebounds, reaching the national championship game for the first time since they won it all in 1998.
Davis had all his stuff working in the win, hitting seven of nine shots from the field and adding four of six from the foul line. On defense, he made the lane a no-driving zone for the Cardinals, blocking five shots, but mostly just imposing his presence in the middle, forcing Louisville into a shooting nightmare of 35% for the game while the Wildcats were hoisting it at a 57% clip.
Despite losing the rebounding battle, 37-32, and Louisville's 16 offensive boards, the Cardinals were forced into tough second-chance shots, many of which realistically had no chance of finding the inside of the rim.
For Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, the irony was bitter, because the last time the Wildcats won the national championship he was their head coach.
John Calipari, who has guided Kentucky to a 37-2 record, has to work his coaching magic for just one more game in order to fulfill his goal of winning a national title. Calipari has coached Kentucky for three seasons, but this team, despite its youth, appears to have all the elements necessary to complete the task and cut down the nets when they face the Kansas Jayhawks Monday night.
National Semi-Final: Kansas 64 Ohio State 62 - Kansas roared back in the second half, erasing a 34-25 Ohio State half time lead, to win their Final Four meeting with the Buckeyes and proceed to the national championship game with Kentucky Monday night.
The Jayhawks couldn't get into a smooth offense in the first half, eventually falling behind by as many as 13 points as Jared Sullinger and Ohio State stormed to what appeared to be an insurmountable lead.
Kansas head coach Bill Self never lost faith in his players' abilities and the Jayhawks used pressure defense in the final 20 minutes to force Ohio State into mistakes and tough shooting chances. Though the game had a helter-skelter quality to it throughout, Kansas kept pressing until finally taking the lead for good with 1.35 left when Travis Relaford calmly tossed in two free throws to give the Jayhawks a 60-59 advantage. A driving layup by Elijah Johnson off a Jeff Withey blocked shot gave Kansas a 62-59 lead with 1:08 to play.
Ohio State eventually cut the lead back to one at 62-61 on a William Buford dunk, but there were only nine ticks left on the clock by then. The Buckeyes fouled Tyshawn Taylor with seven seconds to go, and the senior nailed both freebies to put the Jayhawks back up by three.
With time running down, Kansas chose to foul Aaron Craft, sending him to the line for a 1-and-1. Craft made the front end and purposely missed the second shot and was called for a lane violation as he raced in after his purposeful miss.
With just 2.5 on the clock, Kansas quickly inbounded the ball and the confused Ohio State players failed ot foul, ending the game and sending Kansas back to the championship game for the second time in five years. The Jawhawks won the national championship in 2008, giving Self his first title. The Jayhawks-Wildcats showdown Monday will feature two of the most storied programs in college basketball history.
Kansas will be seeking its fourth tournament championship and sixth overall. Kentucky has won the championship tourney seven times and was also national champion in 1933.
Game time for the final game of the college basketball season is set for an opening tip at 9:23 pm EDT, Monday, April 2nd. The game will be televised nationally by CBS.