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Kentucky tops Louisville to earn title shot

Apr 1, 2012 - 4:25 AM New Orleans, LA (Sports Network) - Kentucky bent, but never broke, and John Calipari earned bragging rights over Rick Pitino.

The Wildcats might not be the only team in Kentucky, but they are the only one still standing.

Anthony Davis had 18 points and 14 rebounds and Kentucky earned a spot in the national championship game with a 69-61 victory over in-state rival Louisville in the Final Four on Saturday.

The top-seeded Wildcats moved on to Monday's title game against Kansas, but they had to weather punches from Louisville in the first and second half to get there.

Darius Miller provided a spark off the bench when Kentucky (37-2) needed it and scored 13 points, while Doron Lamb scored 10.

Peyton Siva led Louisville (30-10) with 11 points -- all in the second half, including seven in a row to get the fourth-seeded Cardinals within two points. Chane Behanan added 10 points -- just four in the second half -- and Gorgui Dieng had 12 rebounds and seven points.

Louisville found a higher gear to match Kentucky's pace during key stretches in the first and second half -- but when the pedal found the floor, it just wasn't enough.

"These guys played their hearts out," said Pitino, the Louisville coach.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist -- like Davis, a standout freshman -- got into foul trouble and had just nine points, but most of them came while his Kentucky teammates went cold in the second half as Siva-led Louisville surged.

The players were finally center-stage after a weeklong leadup to the game that mostly focused on the relationship between their coaches.

Although Calipari, the third-year Kentucky coach, never worked under Pitino, their careers have been linked primarily by the story that says Pitino got Calipari his first job coaching Massachusetts more than 20 years ago.

The men have known each other nearly four decades -- first as friends, now as rivals coaching a blood-feud in basketball-rich Kentucky, where Calipari has the job once held by Pitino.

Calipari, coaching UMass, lost to Pitino in the Final Four 16 years ago when Kentucky went on to capture one of its seven national titles. The men were also the first two coaches to take three different teams to the Final Four -- Pitino first, then Calipari.

Despite the well-worn story of their icy relationship, Pitino said he told Calipari to "bring the trophy back to Kentucky."

"I would love to see Kentucky bring it home," said Pitino. "We're going to root for Kentucky."

Kidd-Gilchrist and Siva scored their first points in the second half during a back-and-forth that ended in Siva's foul shots getting Louisville within 53-51 with about 7 1/2 minutes left.

But Kentucky scored seven straight, getting a key three-pointer from Miller in there, and Louisville was never closer than five in the last 4 1/2 minutes.

"[Our players] had teams come at them all year long," said Calipari, who also took Memphis to the title game in 2008, "and they responded like they did today."

Davis, the winner of so many national player of the year awards already, went 7-of-8 from the floor and was the biggest factor in Louisville not being able to come all the way back, Pitino said.

"It took so much energy to get us back in the game," said the Louisville coach. "Our conditioning was awesome the whole year. The difference (today) was that Anthony Davis is the best player in the country."

Indeed, while Miller and Kidd-Gilchrist provided sparks when Kentucky needed them in the second half, Davis was a constant and dominating presence through the whole game.

The 6-10 freshman grabbed the last of his 14 rebounds on the game's final shot and got to dribble out the remaining seconds.

"There was a lot of emotion there," Davis said.

Kentucky was looking for some distance and got it early in the second half, using a 10-1 run to take a 13-point lead. The spurt was highlighted by Davis' turn-around one-hander from the baseline and Miller's fast-break dunk off a steal in the Louisville backcourt.

The run made it 45-32 with 16:14 remaining, but Louisville weathered the storm with its own 10-1 burst punctuated by consecutive put-back dunks from Dieng and Wayne Blackshear, whose high-flying jam on a Behanan miss drew the Cardinals within 46-42.

Siva's first five points came on back-to-back possessions, including a three that tied the game at 49-49 with around nine minutes left. Soon after, Kidd- Gilchrist scored his first four points, including a rim-shaking dunk, to give Kentucky a four-point lead.

Earlier, Kentucky had leads of 8-2 and 16-6 in the first half -- the latter coming on a Jones dunk.

The Cardinals had trouble keeping up with the fast pace, but only for a little while. Blackshear's double-pump jam gave them life, but they fell back by 10 again soon after.

Later, an 8-2 Louisville run was punctuated by Chris Smith's behind-the-back pass to Dieng for a dunk and three-point play that drew the Cardinals within 31-28.

But Kyle Wiltjer knocked down a three at the other end and Kentucky scored the final four points in the first half for a 35-28 lead.

Game Notes

The schools' campuses are only 75 miles apart...Kentucky is 30-14 all-time against Louisville, including a 69-62 win at home on Dec. 31...The Wildcats improved to 110-46 in the NCAA Tournament, including 6-2 in New Orleans...It was Kentucky's 15th Final Four appearance and Louisville's ninth...Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne helped Louisville win its second national title in 1986...Pitino made three Final Four appearances in his eight seasons at Kentucky.