Kansas’ Thomas Robinson was right. Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis wasn’t Superman.
But even on a night when Davis made just one basket, Davis showed there are a lot of ways to dominate a basketball game, and he led Kentucky to a 67-59 victory over Kansas on Monday night at the Superdome.
Davis, a 6-foot-10 freshman who was voted the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, did not make a basket until 5:12 was left in the game (and Kansas’ 7-foot Jeff Withey was on the bench). However, Davis controlled the inside with 16 rebounds, six blocked shots, three steals and five assists to go with six points, his fewest since he scored four points at Georgia on Jan. 24.
And Davis’ biggest play of the night didn’t show up in the box score. After Kansas, which trailed by as much as 15 with 5 minutes 14 seconds to play, cut the deficit to 65-59 with 23.5 seconds left, Jayhawks guard Elijah Johnson took aim for what looked like an open three-pointer.
But Davis, with his 7-foot-5 wing span, came flying out at Johnson and forced him into a travel.
Sophomore Doron Lamb, who led the Wildcats with 22 points, then made two free throws that sent Big Blue Nation into delirium.
“I told my team, I’m glad they scored points, I’m going to defend and rebound,” said Davis, who made just one of 10 from the field. “If my shots aren’t falling, I’m not going to force it. If I get open looks, I’m going to make the best opportunity out of it, but I’m not forcing any shots.”
Withey blocked four shots of his own and made it difficult for Davis around the basket.
“He’s a great player,” Davis said. “Great players are going to make other great players struggle. But I wasn’t frustrated. I always had a smile on my face when I came in the huddle, and I said, ‘I’m rebounding, blocking shots and defending.’ That was my job for the game.”
Davis’ mere presence in the lane forced the Jayhawks into shooting just 35.5 percent from the field. Robinson was six of 17 from the field. Withey was two of eight, and both players missed dunks.
“It made them second-guess about what they wanted to do,” Davis said of his shot-blocking. “Some of them I was getting a tip or altered and my team got rebounds. Same thing on our end, Withey was blocking shots and altering shots.
“Everybody is talking about me, but it’s all my team. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to this.”
When Kansas went on an 8-0 run and got within 48-38 with 11:53 to play, Kentucky freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrest intercepted a pass and fed Lamb, who hit the first of two killer three-pointers that regained the momentum for Kentucky.
“I wanted to be aggressive and make shots,” said Lamb. “Coach (John Calipari) told me I’m going to have a big game today. I had a great shootaround, and I performed pretty well.
“I was wide open, and I wanted to make shots for my teammates.”
Two of Davis’ fellow NBA-bound freshman made big impacts on the game as well. Guard Marquis Teague had a hot hand early, scoring nine of his 14 points in the first half, while Kidd-Gilchrist was a force inside, finishing with 11 points and six rebounds.
“We got a lot of great players on this team,” Teague said of picking up the scoring slack for Davis. “Other players stepped up and made plays. He had confidence in us to make plays, and that’s what we tried to do.”
But the difference was Davis, who lived up to his selection as national player of the year and validated Calipari’s system of bringing in one- and two-year wonders in quest of winning a national championship.
“That’s the best player in the country, whether he’s scoring or not scoring,” senior Darius Miller said of Davis. “Just his presence alone on the court helps us so much.”
Davis, meanwhile, reveled in the moment.
“This is what we came to Kentucky for, to come out here and win a national championship, and as freshmen, this means a lot to us,” Davis said.
“This is a dream. This is not happening at all. Not at all.”