NEW ORLEANS — John Calipari nearly went through déjà vu Monday night in an NCAA tournament final.
Instead, it was just déjà delight for Kentucky’s basketball coach.
Four years after his Memphis team couldn’t hold onto a nine-point lead against Kansas, Calipari’s third Kentucky team held off the Jayhawks in nearly the exact same situation.
And this time, Calipari’s kids hit their free throws and Kentucky won its eighth national championship with a 67-59 win over Kansas.
Sixteen years after first leading a team to the Final Four and four years after his team blew a late championship game lead, Calipari finally has his championship.
With 4:17 to play, Kansas finally cut a double-digit deficit to singles, much like in 2008 when Coach Cal’s Memphis Tigers, up throughout that championship game, tried to nurse a 9-point lead with 2:12 to go.
Kansas eventually whittled Kentucky’s lead to just five points with 1:37 to go on two Thomas Robinson free throws.
Anthony Davis missed his first free throw, sending flashbacks to those who remembered the 2008 championship game.
But the Wildcats, unlike Calipari’s Tigers, didn’t wilt. Kentucky hit their free throws – 5 of 7 in the final two minutes - to seal the win.
Davis, the national player of the year and Final Four most outstanding player, scored only 6 points on 1 of 10 shooting, but had 16 rebounds, six blocks and five assists, dominating the paint for Kentucky (38-2).
Doron Lamb added 22 points, Marquis Teague put up 14 points and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 11 for Kentucky.
Kansas came at Kentucky early, going straight to the rim for the opening shot of the game. Seconds later, Jeff Withey swatted the Wildcats’ first shot of the night and on the next Kentucky possession, Elijah Johnson fouled Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hard.
But instead of backing down, Kentucky’s crew of freshmen and sophomores buckled down, using their athleticism and speed to begin lengthening the lead.
And by halftime, Kentucky’s lead had grown to 14 despite getting zero points from Davis. But his impact was felt in other ways, including the nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks he had after 20 minutes.
Yet, like most of Kansas’ tournament games, the final didn’t start until the second half began.
The Jayhawks (32-7) took their time, battling throughout, eventually pulling to within single digits for the first time since eight minutes remained in the first half midway through the second.
That set up the frenetic finish.
Tyshawn Taylor led Kansas with 19 points and Thomas Robinson had 18 and 17 rebounds.