Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson are the two best big men in college basketball.
In the most important games so far, the duo didn’t disappoint as Davis paced the Wildcats to a 69-61 win over Louisville in the first national semifinal at the New Orleans Superdome last Saturday, and Robinson eased the Jayhawks to a 64-62 triumph over Ohio State in the second semifinal.
Davis is likely gone to the NBA after one season on the Lexington campus, but his impact was felt after pouring in a game-high 18 points with 14 rebounds, five blocks, and one steal.
The last time these lofty numbers were spilled was by Danny Manning in the 1988 Final Four when he carried Kansas to the national title.
“We really wanted this,’’ said Davis, a 6-foot-10 center from Chicago. “We’re one game closer to our goal. It’s all about the fans. They’re the one who drive us.”
Robinson’s final stat line was nearly as impressive: co-game high 19 points with eight rebounds and one steal.
The Wildcats (37-2) leaped to an 8-2 lead with 17:34 left, and 20-10 when reserve shooting guard Darius Miller (13 points and three rebounds) canned two free throws with 9:58 showing.
Louisville (34.8 percent from the floor) gathered itself and came within 26-20 with 3:41 left before the half, and trailed 35-28 after 20 minutes.
With 16:44 left in the second half, Kentucky opened a 43-32 edge, and went ahead 46-34 after Davis made one of two attempts from the charity line.
The Cardinals (30-10) refused to hide and marched within 46-42 with 11:23 left, and it see-sawed over the next three-plus minutes with Kentucky pulling ahead 53-49 on small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s dunk and 7:55 left. It became 58-51 on Miller’s three-pointer as 5:04 remained.
One had the feeling the Wildcats were in control when Davis grabbed a lob pass from Kidd-Gilchrist (nine points with four caroms), and flushed a one-handed jam as top-seeded Kentucky (57.1 percent) led 65-58 with 50.5 seconds on the clock.
Ohio State controlled the tempo for much of the second game, but Kansas played with more poise late.
“We always find a way to come back,’’ said Robinson, a 6-10 power forward on the Jayhawks’ recent penchant for slow starts. “I don’t like it when we’re behind.”
The Buckeyes (31-8) led 34-25 at the intermission as power forward Jared Sullinger (game-best 11 boards) tallied seven of his 13 points.
When shooting guard William Buford (team-high 19 points and seven rebounds) made a 15-footer, Ohio State led 7-2 with 16 minutes left. It swelled to 21-13 with 7:40 showing, and when small forward Deshaun Thomas (nine points with four rebounds) tipped the ball in, the Buckeyes led 26-13 with 6:10 left.
Kansas (44.6 percent) got within 36-31 as 16:27 remained, and 43-38 four minutes later.
The Jayhawks (32-6) outscored the Buckeyes (33.9 percent) 16-12 and trailed 55-54 with 3:51 left.
When point guard Aaron Craft (11 points and three assists) stole the ball and scored with 2:21 showing, Ohio State was in front 59-56, but feisty Kansas went on an 8-3 run.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.