From the time the brackets were released on Selection Sunday through Monday night at the Superdome, it was hard for basketball fans to picture anybody but Kentucky celebrating on the court.
Through a tournament thin on Cinderellas, short on buzzer-beaters and ultimately void of drama, the team that was supposed to win the NCAA tournament this year fulfilled its destiny.
When the blue confetti fell from the rafters at the buzzer of Kentucky's 67-59 championship victory against Kansas, it not only affirmed that the top-seeded Wildcats were far and away this season's most talented team but that young talent can indeed produce victory.
For all the criticism of coach John Calipari's one-and-done rotating door of top prospects to the NBA, these Wildcats comprised of three starting freshman and two sophomores can claim that they won one before they were done.
"What I wanted to show was we're not just a talented team," Calipari said, "but a defensive team that can share the ball. I wanted to be one for the ages. It doesn't matter how young you are. It's how you play the game."
The ages he was referring to is under 20.
No youthful player had more influence than Anthony Davis, a freshman center from Perspectives-MSA in Chicago. While he grew 8 inches in about a year in high school, nobody's reputation has grown larger or faster in college basketball this season.
Kansas coach Bill Self had declared that Davis wasn't Superman preceding the title game, but Davis certainly looked super human through the season, the tournament and Monday night. It was fitting such a unique player had such a unique impact on the game.
Despite not scoring in the first half and making his first field goal with 5 minutes, 12 seconds remaining, Davis looked every bit the national player of the year and the Final Four's most outstanding player with 16 rebounds and six blocks to go with five assists and only six points on 1-of-10 shooting.
"I just told my teammates I was going to defend," he said. "I let my teammates do all the scoring."
Calipari said: "I said this about a month ago, 'What do you do to help us win when you are not scoring baskets?' He does about 50 things."
The championship was the eighth for Kentucky but its first since 1998, which seems like a lifetime to the ravenous fans who call themselves Big Blue Nation in Lexington, Ky., and chanted "No. 8" at the buzzer. Calipari's first championship clears a professional hurdle for him in an accomplished career that is also littered with controversy involving two vacated Final Four appearances.
Winning a title did not seem to elate him.
"I'm glad it's done," he said. "I don't have to hear the drama. I can just coach."
Kansas could not have felt comfortable in the locker room at the break, down 41-27 even with Davis shooting 0-for-4. It would not have been surprising to find Kentucky fans popping champagne already at halftime. But Kansas was uncorking its own plans.
The Jayhawks had survived this tournament with a series of comebacks, four in six tournament wins including a rally from 13 down against Ohio State on Saturday. But its 18-point first-half deficit on Monday night was just too much against a far superior team.
As Kentucky struggled to hit shots in the remaining minutes, Kansas closed to within 62-57 with 1:57 remaining, resurfacing memories of Calipari's Memphis team that collapsed in 2008 to Kansas.
Kentucky forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist came up with a potentially game-saving block of a layup by Tyshawn Taylor, and Davis was critical again at the end forcing Elijah Johnson to travel and give the ball back to Kentucky with less than 20 seconds to play.
Doron Lamb finished with a game-high 22 points for the Wildcats, while Taylor led the Jayhawks with 19 points.
For Kentucky, the victory appeared to complete a destiny that so many other Calipari-led teams could not achieve.
The Wildcats fell short in the Final Four last season despite freshman Brandon Knight and could not win a title the year prior with standout freshman John Wall.
Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are considered likely pro prospects on this season's team.
Davis said he would wait to decide his future.
"I'm going to wait, sit down with my coach, sit down with my family, see what the best decision is for me," he said.
Calipari praised this season's team for its unselfishness despite its NBA-ready cast.
"They sacrificed for each other and they deserve this win," he said.
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