UK's Anthony Davis leaves his mark

Originally Published: April 2, 2012
By Myron Medcalf | ESPN.com

NEW ORLEANS -- Tears threatened to smear the blue paint underneath the eyes of a young Kentucky fan who simultaneously screamed and cried after her favorite team won a national title with a 67-59 win over Kansas on Monday night.

Anthony Davis, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2012 NCAA tournament, prompted that basketball bliss for Wildcats supporters worldwide.

John Calipari finally won a ring and now, "I don't have to hear the drama," he said after the game.

Davis took -- swatted -- that monkey off his coach's back.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Davis
Bob Donnan/US PresswireFreshman Anthony Davis grabbed 16 rebounds in Monday's game.

Darius Miller, a senior who started his career with an NIT bid in his first season, smiled as he carried the national championship trophy through the Superdome's hallways.

Davis helped him end his career on top by leading Kentucky to its eighth national title.

The only-one-year big man cemented his position as one of the greatest players in college basketball history with his performance against the Jayhawks.

And he did it despite missing nine shots.

Davis produced just six points against Kansas. Jeff Withey's long arms helped limit the freshman star to a 1-for-10 mark from the field. He didn't record his first and only field goal until there were 5 minutes, 14 seconds left on the game clock.

"I like the one that Anthony Davis goes 1-for-10 and you guys say he's the biggest factor in the game," Calipari said. "When I asked these guys a month ago, 'What do you do to help us win when you're not making baskets?' you have an idea what he does."

With his offensive game evaporating with every errant jump shot and failed layup, Davis employed other mechanisms to guarantee Kentucky's first title since 1998.

He became the first player in NCAA tournament history to record six points, 16 rebounds, five assists, six blocks and three steals. Minnesota's Joel Przybilla, all the way back in 2000, was the last player to produce those numbers in any Division I game.

Davis, just the fourth freshman to win MOP honors, blocked or altered 15.7 percent of the Jayhawks' two-point attempts in the title game and 18.2 percent of Kentucky's opponents' shots inside the arc throughout the entire tournament. His 29 blocks are the second-most in a single NCAA tournament. He also helped the Wildcats set a record for blocks (11) in a national title game.

The preceding numbers, produced by ESPN Stats & Info, prove that Davis is not just good -- he's great and selfless.

"I always had a smile in my face. I came in the huddle. 'I'm rebounding.' I told them I was rebounding, blocking shots and defending. That was my job for the day," Davis said while standing on the court with a "No-1 Greater" hat on his head.

In the first half, Davis clearly had problems on offense due to Withey's length. Kansas' 7-footer forced the freshman into unnatural spins and pump fakes that led to soft shots that didn't fall.

But the Wildcats didn't need Davis to score. Doron Lamb (game-high 22 points) and Marquis Teague (14 points) anchored Kentucky's offense, one that also outscored Kansas 20-9 in transition.

For every mishap on offense, however, Davis did something on the other end to make Kansas look clumsy at the rim. He had seven rebounds, three assists and three blocks with 7:01 remaining in the first half. The Jayhawks shot 35.5 percent from the field and couldn't finish in the lane. They missed 14 dunks or layups.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Davis
Richard Mackson/US PresswireWith this type of ability, it's easy to see why Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis is turning pro.

"That was a difficult thing. A lot of times, I tried to go to my left shoulder on [Terrence] Jones, but I could see Anthony skying over the top of him," said Thomas Robinson, who had 18 points and 17 rebounds but was just 6-for-17 from the field. "So it was kind of tough for me to even pass it to Jeff [Withey] or try to get a shot up. He definitely impacted the game for a stretch on the defensive end."

Davis' two free throws gave Kentucky a 56-41 lead with 8:41 to play. But the Jayhawks launched a 16-6 run that closed the gap to 62-57 with 1 minute, 11 seconds to go.

By then, Davis had become the Boogeyman.

His presence continuously startled the Jayhawks. Whether he rose for a block or just kept his hands up when they drove, Davis intimidated Kansas. He had sent jitters throughout the country for the last five months and had no intentions of abandoning the act against the Jayhawks.

Elijah Johnson caught the ball in the left corner with 24 seconds to play and his team in need of a miracle to close a six-point gap. He jumped but Davis lunged toward him.

In mid-air, Johnson became confused when he realized that Davis was on the verge of recording his seventh block of the evening. He came down without releasing the ball and lost the possession on a traveling violation.

Davis walked to the center of the floor and nodded.

He knew what he'd done.

"It kind of makes them second-guess about what they wanted to do," Davis said of his ability to block and alter shots. "They were getting shots off. Some of them, I was getting the tip of them, blocking, altering. My team just got rebounds. Same thing on the other end. Withey was doing a lot of blocking shots, altering shots. That's what great shot-blockers do."

Without the one-and-done rule, Davis would probably be playing in the NBA right now. Due to the one-and-done rule, the country will not get another chance to see the star compete at the collegiate level. That, however, shouldn't skew the facts. He's as impactful as any player we've seen in recent NCAA tournament history. It's impossible to accurately project his effectiveness at the next level, but his amateur numbers are comparable to those recorded by past collegiate legends.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Davis and Terrence Jones
Richard Mackson/US PresswireIn what is likely his one and only season in college, Davis leaves a national champion.

"He may be the best player to [ever] play at Kentucky," said Tubby Smith, the last coach to win a title at Kentucky, as he watched the postgame celebration from the front row.

Once the pageantry of the national title celebration died down, Davis became a regular teenager again.

He hopped onto the back of a golf cart with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as a driver carried them to the postgame press conference. They joked and laughed on the ride.

Kidd-Gilchrist lost his gum and put it back in his mouth. They joked and laughed again.

But the young crew never took this journey lightly.

They're the first assembly of freshmen to lead a program to a national title in the one-and-done era. Ohio State reached the title game with Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. in 2007. John Wall's Kentucky team had five first-round draft picks but couldn't get past the Elite Eight.

As if recognizing that he'd just made history, Davis grabbed the national championship trophy soon after he'd stood on a ladder and cut a piece of the net.

He held the prize like a newborn baby. He hugged it. He stared at it. And he talked to it.

"I love you. I love you," Davis said to the memento.

And for the rest of his life, Kentucky's faithful will return the adoration for a young man who left an undeniable imprint on college basketball and their program.