As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Kentucky’s 69-61 win over Louisville on Saturday night, Anthony Davis fired the ball up at the rafters. As the buzzer sounded, he looked up at the Kentucky fans and started screaming: “This is my stage!”* Five seconds later, he was getting bear-hugged by fellow freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. All this happened just a few minutes after Davis screamed in the ear of Terrence Jones after Jones threw down a powerful dunk in traffic.
Why is this significant?
Because Davis is as stoic as they come. He said all the right things to the media afterwards, but it was quite clear to anyone watching the game that this game meant more to Davis — and to the Wildcats — than just a ‘typical’ Final Four game.
They beat Louisville. They ended their archrivals season on the sports biggest stage. That is significant. But the emotional response from the Wildcats begs the question: was the win too big?
Kentucky will face Kansas, a team they already beat back in November, on Monday for the national title, but one has to wonder whether or not Kentucky already played their ‘title game’, so to speak. With all the buildup leading into their date with Louisville and with all the hype that surrounded that game in the state of Kentucky, will there be a letdown on Monday?
Kentucky looked like a team on a mission on Saturday night. And while it is easy to say that their mission is a national title, the rare emotional response from Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist makes you wonder.
(*He may or may not have actually said a four-letter word that starts with ‘s’ and ends with ‘hit’ instead of stage, but he told reporters at the press conference that he said stage and not, well, the other word.)
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.