Kentucky defeats Louisville, heads to national title game

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NEW ORLEANS — Bragging rights in the Bluegrass State are mighty nice.

Kentucky has its sights set higher.

Much higher.

Anthony Davis and top-seeded Kentucky are right where they planned to be all along, playing for the national title after finally putting away pesky Louisville 69-61 in the Final Four on Saturday night.

“I have a team that’s had teams come at them all year,” coach John Calipari said, “and they responded again today.”

It will be Kentucky’s first appearance in the title game since winning a seventh NCAA crown back in 1998 and it gives Calipari another shot at the championship that has eluded him. The Wildcats (37-2) will face No. 2 seed Kansas, a 64-62 winner over Ohio State in the second semifinal.

As the final seconds ticked down, Davis pointed to the court and screamed twice, “This is my stage!”

Yes, yes, it is.

With a star-studded roster that includes at least three, maybe as many as five NBA lottery picks, Kentucky was the top seed in the tournament and the heavy favorite to cut down the nets when the whole tournament was done. And Calipari wouldn’t let his young players consider anything else, saying repeatedly this was “just another game.”

But playing in-state rival Louisville (30-10) is never just that, and the Cardinals made Kentucky work deep into the second half to grind this victory out.

Louisville outrebounded Kentucky 40-33, including a whopping 19-6 advantage on the offensive glass — the sole reason the Cardinals were able to make a game of this.

“To tell you the truth, I haven’t always liked some of the Kentucky teams. I’m not going to lie to you,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who counts as something of an expert after spending eight years in Lexington and the last 11 with the Cardinals. “But I really like this team a lot because of their attitude and the way they play.

“I’ll certainly be rooting for them hard to bring the trophy back to Kentucky. … They’re a great group of guys, doing a tremendous job.”

So tremendous it led to a thawing, however briefly, in the frosty relationship between Calipari and Pitino. When the two shook hands after the game, Pitino congratulated Calipari and told him he’d be rooting for the Wildcats on Monday night.

“I think that’s neat,” Calipari said. “When I was at UMass, I can remember hugging him and telling him, ‘I’m happy for you and I really want you to win the national title.’ He did the same to me tonight, so I think it’s kind of neat.”

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