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April 1, 2012

Kansas ready for shot at National Title



Having advanced to Monday night's National Championship game, No. 2 seed Kansas welcomes the opportunity to battle Kentucky, the top overall seed, for college basketball's most prized possession.

"Honestly, I think we've been going through this whole tournament feeling no pressure," Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor said on Sunday afternoon. "I think every game that we played on paper, the team is better than us and should have won, or people said that. That's just kind of how it's been for us. But I think with one game left, me and the team was talking about it last night, we got one game left, that's it.

"We don't go out and play that exact way, like it's our last game, I mean, 40 minutes, anybody can get beat," he added. "You know what I'm saying? T-Rob said, there's no Superman's over there. We can come out and play and we can be a better team for 40 minutes, even though on paper they're better."

On the grandest stage college basketball has to offer, Kansas and Kentucky, two of the games most storied programs, will battle for the right to be crowed National Champions.

If the Jayhawks hope to not only avenge a 10 point loss to the Wildcats all the way back on November 15, but capture their second National Championship under Bill Self, they'll have to put forth their best effort of the year.

Following its season opening victory against Marist, Kansas traveled to New York to face a Kentucky team that many expected to seriously compete for a National Championship. Tied at 28-28 at intermission, UK outscored KU by 10 points in the second half, and cruised to a 75-65 victory.

Five players, Doron Lamb (17), Terrence Jones (15), Anthony Davis (14), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (12) and Marquis Teague (12) scored in double-figures for Kansas. Back on November 15, Self's squad simply had no answer for Davis, the 6-foot-10, 220-pound forward from Chicago, Ill.

Against Kansas, Davis, aside from scoring 14 points, pulled down six rebounds and swatted seven shots. After halftime, Davis elevated his game to another level, and the Jayhawks had no answer for UK's freshman phenom.

Still, as good as Davis is, Kentucky is far from a one-man show. Lamb, Jones, Kidd-Gilchrist, Darius Miller, Teague, Kyle Wiltjer, along with Davis, all have the ability to explode for double-digits.

While Davis and Jones give Kentucky an elite frontcourt, Lamb, Kidd-Gilchrist, Miller, Teague and Wiltjer all have the ability to stretch the defense from behind the arc. However, up to this point, John Calipari's squad hasn't overwhelmed its opponents from behind the arc.

Just two players, Lamb (73-of-157) and Miller (55-of-147) have connected on 50 or more shots from downtown. If the Wildcats get on a roll from the outside and control the paint on both ends of the court, the Jayhawks will have a difficult time emerging victorious against the nation's No. 1 ranked team.

However, if Kansas plays its game on Monday night, the Jayhawks, without question, have a chance to capture their second National Championship under Self.

"They're terrific," said Self. "Kentucky's terrific. They've been the best team in the country basically from start to finish with maybe the exception of a week here or a week there. They've gotten better. They're way beyond their years. Although they're young in age, they're certainly not young with experience. I think Darius Miller has been terrific for them. But they've got a terrific team. They're one of the better teams that we've had in college basketball probably from a pure talent standpoint. They got six pros.

"Three of them probably lottery picks," he added. "They're really, really, really talented. But, you know, the thing about it is, I like our guys. I think we're talented, too. We've got a guy that has kind of battled Anthony neck and neck for the most part for national Player of the Year. We got guards that can play with anybody, in my opinion. We got a shot-blocker that's hot right now. We got a wing that can guard. We've got a lot of nice pieces, too. It's just that theirs are a little bit more heralded. From where we started, our path to get here was different than theirs. They're good, really good. But the thing about it is, this time of year, one game left, who would you be playing if they weren't really good, so..."

Late on Saturday night, Kentucky opened up as a six point favorite in Monday's title game, and since that same time, the Wildcats have been dubbed as the clear favorite against the Jayhawks. As of late on Sunday afternoon, not one college basketball analyst had predicted Kansas to cut down the nets inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Clearly, Kansas, from top-to-bottom, doesn't have the talent Kentucky does, but the Jayhawks have plenty of talent. Thomas Robinson (17.7), Taylor (16.5), Elijah Johnson (10.1), Jeff Withey (9.1), Travis Releford (8.6) and company, when playing their best, have the ability, talent and coaching to run with the best teams college basketball has to offer.

Furthermore, aside from being tested week in and week out since the NCAA tournament started, Kansas might just be the best defensive team Kentucky will have faced this season. Certainly, having a shot blocker like Withey is a huge benefit.

"The thing about it is, guys like Anthony and guys like Jeff cover up mistakes," said Self. "Like last night, we actually did an unbelievable job on the defensive glass, and Jared got six offensive rebounds, which doesn't look good. But several of those were off of Jeff's blocks. But certainly having a guy that can erase mistakes is the biggest part of it. Because you can kind of gamble, Ty or Elijah, Travis can gamble on the perimeter sometimes and know that they're forcing them into a situation that could lead to a run out for us.

"That's a big advantage," he added. "Of course, Anthony does the same thing. He's probably the best shot blocker in the country. If he is, and I think we've got the second best right here, two great shot blockers going at each other."

When the field of 68 was announced in March, the goal for each and every team involved, whether realistic or not, was to string together six straight victories. It's not about winning the best of five or the best of seven, but winning the final game on the first Monday in April.

Feeling very little pressure, Taylor and the Jayhawks welcome the opportunity to tangle with the Wildcats with a National Championship at stake.

Kentucky, according to the experts, is the overwhelming favorite and is expected to cut down the nets.

Kansas, as they say, is playing with "house money" and will look to roll the dice for the jackpot against Kentucky.

"I mean, it doesn't bother us," said Taylor when asked if he gets upset when he hears this is Kentucky's game to lose. "They got high expectations, which they had a great year. So the expectations should be high for them.

"I think what we think, though, is that we match up with them well," he added. "We feel confident going into this game. I think that's just what it comes down to. We don't listen to what people say about Kentucky," he added. "We just do what we got to do and I think we'll be fine."

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