“When you’re playing against Bill Russell at the pro level, you realize why the Celtics won 11 world championships,” Pitino said. “When you see this young man at the collegiate level, you realize why they’re so good. Not that their other players aren’t, but he’s so much of a factor.”
Davis’s line for the night read this way: 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting, 14 rebounds, five blocked shots and uncountable altered shots. His presence inside opened things up offensively for his teammates — the Wildcats shot 57 percent — while his defensive presence played a major role in Louisville shooting just worse than 35 percent.
“He’s done this all year,” Calipari said. Looking at Teague and Miller he said, “Did you think he was any different tonight than most nights?” Both shook their heads on cue.
If Kentucky had a weakness this season, it was supposed to be its lack of experience, with three freshman and two sophomores among the top six players. That’s why the question was raised about the possibility of blinking in the glare of this spotlight against an arch rival coached by a man who is considered the devil among the Kentucky legions.
It never happened.
“They really don’t play like freshman,” Louisville senior Kyle Kuric said, shaking his head. “They just have a lot of maturity in the way they play. They carry themselves with confidence. They aren’t shy or afraid of the big moments.”
That’s why they are now 37-2 and will play on Monday night. When the game ended, with the ball in Davis’s hands, he threw it in the rafters screaming “this is my stage” over and over.
Davis giggled like a teenager — which, after all he is — when the final seconds came up in the postgame news conference.
“Did you say that Anthony?” Calipari asked. “Did you really say that?”
Davis nodded sheepishly. But there was no reason to blush. He had proven emphatically that this is his stage, and his teammates had followed along in their supporting roles just as they have all season.
“Can they be beaten?” Pitino asked rhetorically. “Sure, but it’s going to take somebody’s A-plus game.”
Louisville produced a game Saturday night that was a solid A-minus. It attacked the offensive boards. It hung in after falling behind and left Pitino talking about how proud he was of their performance and their season.
And yet the Cardinals’ last lead of the night was 2-0. They had their one moment of hope after Siva’s three-pointer but it passed in what felt like an instant.
There may be another one of those moments waiting for Kentucky on Monday night. Based on what happened here on Saturday, the Wildcats appear ready for their final close-up.
For John Feinstein’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/feinstein. For more by the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.