For Kentucky, the game broke down to a frenetic first half and a test of stamina and perseverance in the second, holding off a determined Kansas squad to capture its eighth title with a 67-59 victory.
Kentucky led by as many as 18 points in the first half, which ended with a 41-27 Wildcat advantage. The Wildcats were too quick for Kansas and pushed the ball upcourt with relentless ferocity and were also efficient with the basketball, making 16 of 30 field goal attempts (53%). Though they committed five first half turnovers, the Wildcats dished nine assists and out-rebounded Kansas, 22-14 through the first 20 minutes.
The Jayhawks struggled on offense, hitting just 33% of their first half shots (11-33) but picked up the scoring pace after the break, scoring the first three points of the second half to cut briefly into the Kentucky lead.
As had been their forte throughout the tournament, the Jayhawks deployed their defense to claw back into the fray, though this time they would come up short as Kentucky had forged too big a lead and was reluctant to slow the game down and offer any hope to the Kansans.
With 12:30 remaining, Kansas had cut the lead to 10 points, but Doron Lamb made two three-pointers within a 38 second span to give Kentukcy its largest second half lead, at 54-38.
Anthony Davis, who made only one field goal in the game but dominated the interior with a game high 16 rebounds and six blocks, hit a short baseline jumper with 5:10 left to boost Kentucky back to a 59-44 lead that signaled the end was in sight.
Kansas was relentless down the stretch, however, eventually cutting the lead down to five points when Thomas Robinson made a pair of free throws with 1:37 to go, but that was as close as the Jayhawks would get. Kentucky's Marcus Teague made two of three free throws and Lamb sunk a pair from the foul line with 17.5 seconds left to complete the scoring.
Elijah Johnson threw up a three-point attempt as time wound down, the ball suitably ending up in the hands of Davis as the final buzzer sounded.
Kentucky had survived, giving John Calipari the most cherished coaching prize in college basketball, his first national championship after three years of building the Kentucky program into an NBA feeding ground.
The scrambled second half took its toll on the stat sheet. Kentucky made just seven of 26 shots in the last 20 minutes, finishing with a shooting percentage of 41% for the game. Kansas shot just 35.5%, making 22 of 62 field goals attempts. Kentucky turned the ball over just 11 times - to nine for Kansas - and won the battle of the boards, 39-34.
Freshman Anthony Davis will not likely return to Kentucky, taking the route of winning the national title straight to the NBA, as did Carmello Anthony after his championship with Syracuse in 2002.
The Kentucky program may be decimated by the NBA draft, as, along with Davis, fellow freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague could also go pro. Sophomore Terrance Jones will almost certainly opt for an early exit as well, leaving only Lamb, a sophomore, as the only returnee from the starting five.
Leading all scorers with 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including three 3-pointers and 5 of 6 from the foul line, Doron Lamb's contribution cannot be understated. While Davis had one of his worst shooting performances (1-for-10) of his brief collegiate career, it was Lamb who picked up the scoring, with 12 in the first half and 10 in the second. He is College Basketball Daily's final player of the day for the 2011-12 season.
Conference Tournament Scoreboard FINAL
With Kentucky's victory in the final, the SEC proved to be the best conference through the tournament, racking up an impressive 11-3 record. with the Big Ten and Big 12 also putting in impressive performances. With nine losses and just 14 wins, maybe it's time for the selection committee to pare down the number of Big East teams invited next season, though Louisville may argue with that scenario.
The worst record was that of the Mountain West, which sent four teams but won just one game (New Mexico). The PAC-12 sent just two teams - Cal and Colorado - and won only one game, that being Colorado's win over UNLV, while Cal fell in one of the play-in games, to South Florida.
2012-2013 will see a good number of teams shifting of conferences, but clearly, the best basketball is being played East of the Mississippi, primarily in the heartland, mid-atlantic and mid-southern states.
Through games of Monday, April 2
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