NEW ORLEANS - Anthony Davis has been placed on a pedestal by the college basketball world since he announced his presence with a last-second block against North Carolina in early December. It was only fitting then he unleashed the most emotion he's shown since that day when Kentucky finally slammed the door on rival Louisville in the national semifinals.
“This is my stage!” Davis barked toward the section of Kentucky friends, family and supporters behind the Cats' bench.
And what a show the freshman forward put on for the sporting world to see. Where Davis' career goes after his time at Kentucky is unknown but there is no lingering doubt about the lasting impact the 6-foot-11 big man will leave on the storied program and college basketball as a whole.
There is Anthony Davis. Then there is everyone else.
“I will say this, Anthony Davis is as fine a basketball player as there is,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “The difference, quite frankly, is Anthony Davis is the No. 1 player picked in the (NBA) Draft. When you're playing against Bill Russell at the pro level you realize why the Celtics won 11 World Championships. When you see this young man at the collegiate level you realize why they're so good.”
Davis befuddled a coach who is considered one of the best there has been at neutralizing dominant college big men – Tim Duncan anyone? - for the second time this season. In the same week he has made half a dozen acceptance speeches for various National Player of the Year awards, Davis dropped 18 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks and two assists on Pitino's Cardinals. His two-game totals against Louisville: 36 points, 24 rebounds, 11 blocks, 10-of-12 from the field, 16-of-19 from the free throw line.
And no answer from Louisville.
“It never hurts to have the best player in the country,” junior guard Jon Hood said. “We don't do much trash talking but we hear everything and whoever it was that said Gorgui Dieng was just as good needs to go back and watch that tape. There is a reason he won every award, so many that he can't even carry them all back to Lexington. There's a reason he's the best player in the country and he showed everyone why.”
Davis showed off his full arsenal against the Cardinals: the tissue-soft right-hand baby hook, the ball handling, the timing on blocked shots, deft touch on tip-ins, and free throw stroke. By the time he corralled an impossibly high touch pass lob from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and delivered a thunderous – and absurdly athletic – one-handed alley-oop with just over a minute remaining the Best Performance by a Leading Actor was complete.
“He did what he's done all year – blocked four or five balls, scored around the basket, had a couple of offensive tip-ins,” UK coach John Calipari said. “The reason we shot such a high percentage is because Dieng was playing back and wouldn't leave Anthony. Then it came to a point where (Davis) said, 'Look, I can score, throw me the ball in the post.' And we went to that offense where we kept going to the left side (of the court). He's played like this all year.”
The likelihood is that Davis will play his final game in a Kentucky uniform on Monday night, but that didn't keep Calipari from dreaming big before retiring to the locker room to begin preparations for the Cats' shot at an eighth national championship.
“I told him he could play point guard for us if he'd like to, just come back next year and work that out,” Calipari said.
There may not be a stage big enough to hold that possibility.