NEW ORLEANS — The running joke all season was that Kentucky was good enough to beat some NBA teams. Say, maybe the Toronto Raptors.
Farfetched? Probably. But with that stable of pros-in-waiting, one thing seemed certain: the Wildcats were the team to beat in college basketball.
Capping a season that had a feeling of inevitability, Kentucky finished with a flourish, beating Kansas 67-59 in the NCAA championship game Monday night.
OK, so maybe it was the last time we’ll see many of those future millionaires in blue and white. At least they’ll go out as heroes after bringing home an eighth national championship to Big Blue and giving John Calipari the one missing piece to his résumé.
“We were the best team,” Calipari said. “I wanted this to be one for the ages.”
Calipari has had a knack for luring the nation’s best recruits to Lexington, never worrying about whether they’d stick around.
This year’s bouncy-legged bunch was impressive even by his standards.
Led by player of the year Anthony Davis, these fast-tracked Wildcats raced past nearly everyone who got in their way.
Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb, Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague – Coach Cal had a team of ringers and he, along with everyone else, knew it. Who’s No. 2 seemed to be the only question left.
The Wildcats earned a return trip to the Big Easy by turning a highly hyped regional final against Baylor into a rout.
Waiting for them was in-state rival, Louisville, which gave Kentucky a battle before bowing out.
That set up a blue blood matchup with Kansas in Monday’s championship game. Save for a slight stumble near the finish, the Wildcats rolled to the title everyone said was theirs to lose.
“They’re playing with pros,” Kansas coach Bill Self.
Finally, this year, Cal’s method – recruiting the best players, even if they’ll likely be one-and-done – was fully validated in the form of a national title.
“I don’t think it’s a good rule,” Calipari said. “I hope we change it before this week’s out and all these guys have to come back. But it is a rule. It’s not my rule. It’s a rule we have to deal with.”
And one Calipari and the Wildcats ruled with, at least this year.