It’s official: there will be a team from the state of Kentucky playing for the national title next Monday.
The No. 1 seed Wildcats advanced past No. 3 seed Baylor with a 82-70 win in the South Region final on Sunday afternoon. With the win, Kentucky will advance to a national semifinal matchup with in-state rival Louisville, setting the stage for the biggest game in the history of one of the most intense rivalries in the country.
Kentucky fell behind Baylor early, 10-5, but ran away from the Bears with a 33-7 run, opening up a 21 point lead and never looking back.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist led the way with 19 points and five boards, scoring 17 in the first half. MKG’s ability to get out and score in transition was too much for Baylor to handle. Anthony Davis added 16 points, 10 boards and five blocks, overcoming a bruised knee that forced him to limp for much of the second half.
But arguably the most important player in this game for Kentucky was Terrence Jones.
Jones has been an enigma for much of his career in Lexington, but over the last two months, he’s become a different player. How so? He finished with 12 points, nine boards, six assists, three steals and three blocks. He’s bought in. He’s playing hard. And he’s doing so without needing to leads the team in shot attempts. When Jones is playing like this, he makes Kentucky a completely different team.
A better team.
And at this point, how much better do they need to be?
The Wildcats are already the overwhelming favorite to win Coach Cal his first national title. They have more talent and fewer weaknesses than anyone left in the field. They seem to be peaking at the right time. I don’t know if you can beat Kentucky unless they beat themselves. And they expect to win. Did anyone else noticed the subdued celebration after locking up the Final Four trip? This team is focused they know what they are here to do.
And that is what makes the matchup with Louisville in the Final Four so intriguing.
Louisville, from a talent perspective, isn’t close to the same level as Kentucky. But the Cardinals know how to muck things up defensively, which could give Kentucky problems if the Wildcats allow the pressure of the moment — playing their biggest rival in the Final Four — to get to them.
This should be a fun week in the state of Kentucky.