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Rewind: Class of the Commonwealth

NCAA Tournament National Semifinals
Mar. 31, 2012
Mercedes-Benz Superdome; New Orleans

Anthony Davis had 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks (Photo by Jeff Drummond)

NEW ORLEANS - With an entire state watching, and with an entire state holding its breath, Kentucky beat Louisville 69-61 on the biggest stage the rivalry has seen. The state has about 48 hours to breathe until its flagship university will play for a chance at an eighth national championship.

Anthony Davis was his National Player of the Year self, finishing with 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks.

The Cardinals stuck around, tying the game at 49 midway through the second half. After a 11-2 run that seemed to clinch the Cats' shot in the title game, Louisville made the game close one last time on the back of Peyton Siva. Siva scored 11 points, all in the game's final 10 minutes. Louisville reached within five points, 63-58, with 1:23 left but could get no closer.

Davis answered defiantly with one of his most rim-shakingly terrifying slams of the season, an alley-oop on a touch pass from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Davis pulled his right hand back, just having caught the ball, almost behind his head. His tomahawk slam sent the Superdome into a frenzy, and it sent the Cats to Monday's championship game.

on Rick Pitino saying he hopes Kentucky wins the championship
“I think that's neat. When I was at UMass (in 1996) 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 that's kind of neat.”

“They have a great basketball team. To tell you the truth, I haven't always liked some of Kentucky's teams. I'm not going to lie to you. But I really like this team a lot because of their attitude and the way the play. I'm really impressed with them, not only as basketball players, the way they carry themselves, their attitude. Louisville will be rooting for Kentucky, which doesn't happen very often, to bring home that trophy to the state.” – Louisville coach Rick Pitino

“To us, it was the next game. Whether we were playing Louisville, Texas, Georgetown, whoever, we were going to try and come out and play with the same intensity and we prepared the same way all week. It's just the next game. Our goal is to win a championship not beat a certain team.” – Darius Miller, on importance of beating Louisville

Anthony Davis has spent most of his week in New Orleans shuffling back and forth from practice to various award ceremonies while collecting a gym full of national player of the year trophies. Davis left no doubt as to his credentials in delivering 18 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks, two assists and a steal in 39 defining minutes. The freshman intimidated Louisville big man Gorgui Dieng – no slouch of a player himself – and came up with a big block, rebound or mesmerizingly soft right-hand hook every time the Cats found themselves in hot water. If these are Davis' final images as a UK player they will remain indelible forever.

Kentucky should have known there would be no finishing knockout punch. Louisville, as it had been throughout the Big East and NCAA Tournaments, was the zombie who you couldn't kill, returning time and again to chase the movie's main character. The Cardinals followed the same script in their second shot at rival Kentucky, stunning the crazed 75,000 fans in the Superdome when Peyton Siva – a 24 percent three-point shooter – buried a triple to tie the game at 49 with 9:11 remaining. The Cats would have their mettle tested one more time, and one more time they proved they have a gear no one else can get to and a resolve that appears unmatched. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored on a lay-in, had a ballerina-meets-high jumper drive, spin and dunk and then Darius Miller pushed the lead out to seven with 5:07 left on a clutch three from the right wing.

Darius did it. Again. The senior guard had two stretches of play that were simply too good when the Cats needed them most in the second half. The first came after Louisville closed to with five early in the second half, as Miller made his signature leaner in the lane, then stripped Chane Behanan to give UK a possession where Anthony Davis scored. Miller then jumped a passing lane near the three-point line, picked off a pass and raced for a dunk that gave the Cats a 43-32 lead. Miller's second clutch show came when he buried a three to push UK's lead to 58-51 with 5:07 remaining, made a pair of free throws when no one else could make them and then chased down a long rebound of a Kyle Kuric missed three.

57.1 – Kentucky couldn't throw the ball into the Keeneland infield in the first meeting with Louisville, shooting just 29.8 percent from the field in that 69-62 victory. The Cats had no problems solving the Cardinals' morphing defense in this one, dropping a 57.1 percent clip on the nation's No. 3 field goal percentage defense. That ability to make shots helped ease the issues of rebounding and free throw shooting and allowed the Cats to close out a team that refused to go away.

Both teams should be proud of the show they put on for the nation in representing the passion and meaning of college basketball in the state of Kentucky. Kentucky did what it has done all year, answering every challenge to its superiority, while Louisville displayed the fight and tenacity that deserves a hat-tip from UK fans. This is a night and a game people will be talking about for decades in the Commonwealth.

Kentucky (37-2) advances to Monday night's national championship game against the winner of Ohio State and Kansas. Tip is set for 9:23 p.m. eastern time.

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