NEW ORLEANS — Anthony Davis and Marquis Teague sat in the back of a golf cart outside the UK locker room, waiting to be whisked away to post-game interviews, and they were singing.
Not relaxing. Not recuperating. Not feeling relieved. Singing.
OK, maybe not an actual song, but still. As Teague and Davis broke down their own 69-61 win over rival Louisville in the Final Four, they sang the words instead of speaking them. They went over key plays in that sing-song voice, and they repeated phrases from head coach John Calipari in that sing-song voice and they celebrated in that sing-song voice.
“The emotions, I’m just glad to be here, in the national championship game as a freshman,” Davis explained later, not in that sing-song voice, but at a press conference lectern.
Davis was the main reason he’s there. On a weekend when he won more national player of the year awards, he backed up the voters with 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in 39 minutes. He only missed one shot — no Louisville defender could guard his now-refined post moves, an arrangement obvious enough that Davis eventually insisted on getting the ball — and caused way more than one miss on the other end.
At the end of the game, Davis exploded with those emotions. He hurled the ball up in the air and screamed … well, something. It started with “This is my” but ended with either “state,” “stage,” or “s—,” depending on which pair of courtside ears you trusted.
“I said, this is my stage,” Davis clarified after the game. “We’re from Kentucky. We’re built for this.”
It sure seems like UK is built for a title at this point. The Cats handled Louisville’s variety of defensive looks to shoot 57.1 percent against a team that allowed opponents to shoot 38 percent, the third-best mark in the nation. Full-court press, man-to-man, 2-3 zone — UK found enough of an answer for them all.
And when Louisville went on a searing 15-3 run to tie the game at 49-49 midway through the second half, the Cats didn’t melt from the pressure, which had been collecting all season and was now suddenly magnified on the biggest stage.
They went on an 11-2 run of their own.
And as the minutes kept ticking after that, and the Cats were assured of a victory, the emotions mounted, bursting through at the end.
On the other side, UK’s gutsy performance was enough that Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said he would be “rooting” for UK to bring the championship trophy back to the state.
“To tell you the truth, I haven’t always liked some of the Kentucky teams,” Pitino said. “But I really like this team a lot because of their attitude and the way they play.”
Join the club, Pitino. The Cats have attracted a nearly infinite amount of praise this season. Those will only climb with a national title at stake Monday.
Will they feel the pressure? Consider this: they were singing after the game, remember?
The players are ready to handle it. In the locker room about 20 minutes after the game, Terrence Jones admitted that the feeling of this win was “a lot different” than a normal victory, but reaffirmed that the Cats knew their journey wasn’t over.
Doron Lamb, sitting feet from him, had the same message.
“We haven’t really won anything,” Lamb said. “If we win on Monday, then we’ll celebrate. But right now we have to take care of business and move on.”