But unlike 2008, Calipari won his elusive first national title after Davis, freshman Marquis Teague and the rest of the Wildcats made enough free throws. With a 67-59 victory over Kansas at the Superdome, Kentucky became one of the youngest teams to win a national title. The Wildcats (38-2) earned their eighth national championship in school history and their first since 1998.
“I told my wife, ‘I am glad it’s done.’ I don’t have to hear the drama,” Calipari said afterward. “It’s almost like,‘Done, Let’s move on.’ ”
Hailed as perhaps the best recruiter of the modern era, Calipari’s greatest challenge during his first national championship season was how to get some of the most talented players he has ever coach, almost all underclassmen, to sacrifice individual scoring totals for team accomplishment.
All season, Calipari challenged players by asking, “How do you help us when you are not scoring?” And in the most significant game of Calipari’s career, no one better illustrated his point than Davis, who dominated the national title game in every way except scoring.
Big Blue Nation erupted when Davis made his first field goal of the game with 5 minutes 14 seconds remaining, and Kentucky seemed on its way to punctuating one of the most dominant seasons by a team in recent memory. Davis finished with six points, 16 rebounds, five assists and six blocks, which tied a championship game record. He was named the most outstanding player of the NCAA tournament.
After the game, Davis was asked if he were frustrated by his shooting struggles (he made 1 of 10 field goal attempts).
“Not at all,” he said. “I just played defense and blocked shots. I made them second-guess their shots.”
Said Calipari: “At halftime, before he left locker room, I said: ‘Listen, don’t worry about not scoring. You are the best player on the court.’ ”
Monday night was a seminal moment for a one-of-a-kind, controversial coach who saw two of his three previous Final Four appearances — Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008 — vacated. His recruiting philosophy remains under attack by critics, but Calipari does not apologize for encouraging his best recruits to use Kentucky, which has been dubbed One-and-Done U., as a one-year pit stop on the way to the NBA.
And in one weekend, Calipari managed to exorcise two demons. He beat longtime nemesis Rick Pitino and in-state rival Louisville in Saturday’s national semifinal. And Monday he beat Self, the coach who engineered Kansas’s thrilling overtime victory in that 2008 national title game.