Blue was the magic color in New Orleans on Saturday, and the end result pits two of college basketball's most storied programs in the NCAA Championship Game.
Nearly five months after they met in their second games of the season, the Kentucky Wildcats and Kansas Jayhawks will meet again with the 2012 title at stake. The rematch also sets up an NCAA Finals repeat from four years ago between coaches John Calipari and Bill Self. We'll come back to those games a bit later.
First up are the details for Monday's contest. CBS will broadcast from New Orleans' Mercedes-Benz Superdome where the tip-off is slated for 9:23 p.m. (ET). The top-ranked and top-seeded Wildcats are 6½-point favorites on the Don Best odds screen, with indications the spread could slip a half-point to an even six which is where a few shops in Las Vegas started the number. The total sits in the 139-140 range.
Just as the KU/UK battle is a rematch from earlier in the campaign, both teams reached the championship tilt following semifinal wins on Saturday that were also replays on the schedule. Kentucky held off repeated rally attempts by Louisville to get past the Cardinals by a 69-61 score. That game 'pushed' for some on the 8-point line while cashing for others who held Louisville +8½-point tickets. Kansas was the squad in rally mode vs. Ohio State, with the Jayhawks claiming a 64-62 victory against the Buckeyes. That clash closed with OSU laying three points, and both semifinals finishing 'under' the total.
Kentucky only trailed for the first 45 seconds of the matchup with Louisville, and built double-digit leads three times only to fend off a stubborn Cardinals team that just wouldn't go away. A Peyton Siva 3-pointer knotted the teams at 49 with just over nine minutes to go, but that was as close as Louisville could get. Darius Miller's trey near the 5-minute mark helped the Wildcats back to a 7-point cushion, and UK's inside duo of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist took over from there.
Davis ended with 18 points and 14 rebounds, his third double-double of the tournament, and added five blocks. Miller scored 13 off the bench for Calipari's crew, and sank all four of his free throws in an otherwise shaky performance at the charity stripe by the Wildcats (11-of-20).
Like Louisville, Kansas held the initial 2-0 lead before Ohio State took charge of Saturday's second semifinal. The Buckeyes held 13-point leads at various points during the first half, and took a 34-25 advantage into the locker room. The Jayhawks chipped away at the deficit until finally regaining the lead with just under three minutes to play on a pair of freebies from Travis Releford.
Kansas went 6-for-6 at the line in the closing minutes and were paced by four double-digit scorers. Thomas Robinson led the way with 19, Elijah Johnson registered a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Jeff Withey grabbed eight boards while blocking seven shots.
William Buford matched Robinson with 19 points for the Buckeyes, but he got little assistance from Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas as Kansas frustrated the two Ohio State forwards in the second half. Sullinger (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Thomas (9 points) were a combined 2-for-17 from the field in the final 20 minutes, both field goals by Sullinger, and just 1-for-9 from beyond the arc for the game.
The 6½-point spread for Monday's matchup sits squarely on the closing number for the Nov. 15 collision at Madison Square Garden between UK and KU. Paced by Doron Lamb's 17 points, all five Wildcats starters reached double digits in their 75-65 triumph and cover. Tyshawn Taylor scored a game-high 22 for the Jayhawks, but 15 of those came from the free-throw line as the senior guard sank just 3-of-13 from the field. Robinson saw just 27 minutes of action for Kansas due to foul trouble in the second half.
Calipari was in his next-to-last season at Memphis when he and Self matched wits in the 2008 NCAA Championship. The Tigers and Jayhawks were joined by UCLA and North Carolina at the Final Four in San Antonio, the only time in NCAA Tournament history that all four No. 1 seeds won their regions. The Memphis-Kansas contest opened with the Jayhawks -1½ before closing at Tigers -2. That line movement appeared prophetic when Memphis held a 60-51 lead with just over two minutes remaining.
Kansas didn't give up, however, and a Mario Chalmers 3-pointer with nine ticks remaining forced overtime. The Jayhawks made their first three shots in the extra period while the Tigers missed their final three in overtime, and Kansas took home its third NCAA Championship with a 75-68 victory.