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National championship game gets physical quickly
NCAA notebook
Kentucky banged around
Kentucky forward Anthony Davis battles for the ball with Kansas center Jeff Withey and forward Kevin Young during the first half of the national championship game on Monday in New Orleans. - photo by The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — Watching his players get banged around on three straight missed shots, Kentucky coach John Calipari stalked up the sideline with his arms outstretched over his head.

"What was that?! What was that!?" Calipari screamed at the officials.

Welcome to the NCAA championship, mosh pit style.

With the officials letting 'em play, Monday night's title game was a brutal affair, filled with pushing, shoving, the occasional elbow.

While the players colliding like barges on the Mississippi River, both coaches spent plenty of time screaming at the officials. They didn't get very far.

Kentucky shot 21 free throws and Kansas shot 15, but there could have been plenty more with the number of times players were hit or knocked around.

"It was pretty physical out there — they were letting a lot of things go," Kansas center Jeff Withey said.


EXPERIENCED: Darius Miller gets plenty of grief about being an old man as the only senior who plays significant minutes for Kentucky. He's about to become the most experienced Wildcat ever, too.

When Miller plays in the national championship game on Monday night against Kansas, it will be his 152nd appearance for Kentucky, breaking the school mark set by Wayne Turner in 1999.

"It's been a lot of fun playing with all these guys," Miller said. "We've had great teammates, great players. Just being able to play with them, good players, great players, I've had a lot of fun with that. I've learned a lot from those guys. I still talk to them this day."

Miller has played with some 40 teammates in his college career that started under coach Billy Gillispie. Gillispie was fired after Miller's freshman year and Miller has been part of runs to the regional finals, the Final Four and now the title game.

"It's very emotional. We've worked extremely hard to get to this point. I feel like we've all did a great job throughout the whole year. This is what we've been reaching for," he said. "At the end of this game we have a chance to win a national championship. It's an opportunity that not most people get. Can't really explain it in words. You have to experience it.

"For me to be able to experience it with these guys who I've grown to be brothers with, it means a lot to me. Especially, in my freshman year, I was in the NIT. It was terrible."

Miller — along with five other teammates on this squad — will join Turner, Anthony Epps, Jamaal Magloire and Ron Mercer in 1996-97 for most games played in a season at 40.

Miller's teammates are impressed with his longevity.

"That's crazy. We were all shocked when we heard that," sophomore teammate Terrence Jones said. "He's a great player, and we really need him on this team. We wouldn't be this far without him. He just gets the job done for us in so many ways."


GETTING SOAKED: A few hours before tipoff, the six-lane drag leading from the heart of downtown to the Superdome was teeming with fans in blue, as was a public plaza where rock band Better Than Ezra was about to play. Suddenly, the sky turned dark gray and a heavy downpour ensued, accompanied by lightning.

Fans were urged to leave the plaza known as Champions Square, which was filled with scaffolding, a metal stage and sound equipment.

The pregame party and concert in the square ultimately was canceled after the NCAA consulted with police and city officials.

"It was severe-weather related," NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said. "Safety of fans is the first priority,"

Many got drenched as they scurried toward buildings with balconies or other types of overhangs. Those spots quickly filled up with people jammed shoulder-to-shoulder, waiting for the storm to pass.

About an inch-and-a-half or rain fell in about a two-hour period before the game, according the National Weather Service. That was enough to cause minor street flooding, as often happens in this saucer-shaped city, where pumping systems struggle to keep up with heavy rains. Hail also was reported in the metro area, although it was not evident downtown.

As the rain and lightning persisted, some people eventually ran out of patience and left sheltered areas, a few of them stepping off curbs and into ankle-high water in their hurry to get to the dome.


NO MAX: Max Falkenstien, the longtime radio voice of the Jayhawks, will miss watching his beloved team in the Final Four in person for the first time Monday night.

Falkenstien, who will turn 88 next week, spent 60 years calling Kansas games. He got his start in 1946 and chronicled an estimated 1,750 basketball games — and about 650 football games — before retiring from the broadcast booth in 2006.

His father worked for the school growing up, so Falkenstien was on hand in 1940 when Kansas first played in the Final Four. He was there for the Jayhawks' next trip in 1952, when they won the first of four NCAA tournament titles, and every one after that — 13 trips in total.

Even though he'd retired, he was also on hand for the Jayhawks' thrilling win over Memphis to win the 2008 championship.

Bob Davis, his on-air partner for more than two decades and the current lead broadcaster, said school officials tried at the last minute to get Falkenstien to New Orleans for the game. He ultimately was unable to make the trip, though Davis was quite certain he'd tune in to the television coverage.


FREE FOR ALL: Kentucky guard Doron Lamb says he'll make sure to breathe deep and follow through.

The rest of Big Blue Nation will exhale if the Wildcats can hit free throws against Kansas.

The inability to make the unguarded 15-footers was a key reason John Calipari's Memphis team fell to the Jayhawks in the 2008 title game. The Tigers went 12 of 19 from the stripe, including missing four of their final five in regulation with a chance to seal a victory.

Kentucky has made a Southeastern Conference-best 72.3 percent of its attempts this season, giving Calipari confidence.

"I have no issues with that whatsoever," Calipari said. "We'll be fine."

The Wildcats hit 35 of 37 attempts in a 102-90 victory in the regional semifinals against Indiana. Since then, they've followed it up by making 30 of 44 against Baylor and 11 of 20 against Louisville for a combined average of 64 percent over the last two games.

"I hate leaving points at the line, especially since it's wide open, no one moving," Kentucky forward Terrence Jones said. "We're usually pretty good down the stretch, especially in close games, when it comes down to it late in the game, knocking down free throws.

"Hopefully it doesn't come down to that, but if we do, I trust my team. We've got a lot of great free throw shooters."


MUST-SEE TV: It's safe to say Bill Self and John Calipari don't like watching the same things.

Take the video of the 2008 NCAA championship game, the one where Calipari's Memphis Tigers missed four free throws down the stretch and blew a late nine-point lead in an overtime loss to Self's Kansas Jayhawks.

Self has watched film of that game so many times he's practically worn his copy out.

"I could recite just about every possession if you want to go through it right now," the Kansas coach said Sunday. "Doing my little elliptical (machine) every day, I watched the game every day. I worked out 50 straight days or something like that."

Calipari, on the other hand, has never seen it.

Not only that, his tape of that game might still be lying along a San Antonio roadway somewhere.

"That tape was flung out the door of the bus as we were going to the plane," said Calipari, now the coach at Kentucky. "I have never looked at that tape, nor will I."

It's not just that loss, though. Calipari doesn't like watching tape of any game his team loses.

"I haven't looked at the Connecticut tape from last year. That was thrown out," he said, referring to Kentucky's loss to the Huskies in the national semifinals. "The only thing I would learn from that thing is, 'Oh, my gosh, we lost.' I'm moving on."

One of the coaches will have something new to add to his viewing queue after Monday night's final. Kentucky plays Kansas for the title in a rematch, of sorts, of that 2008 game.


DUELING DATES: The NCAA and NBA differ on when a player must decide whether he's returning to school or going to the pro ranks.

Last April, the NCAA Division I Legislative Council adopted a proposal that requires student-athletes who declare they're interested in the NBA draft to remove their name from pro consideration before the first day of the spring National Letter of Intent signing period that begins April 11, nearly a month earlier than the previous deadline.

The new deadline gives players just four days to review recommendations from the NBA's undergraduate advisory committee, a group of NBA team executives who offer a private projection of the player's draft status.

NBA teams can't workout underclassmen until they are notified by the league about who is eligible for the draft after the NBA's April 29 deadline for early entry eligibility.

The new dates mean players may be able to say they're returning to school to satisfy the NCAA requirement, only to later declare their eligibility and leave before the NBA's deadline. Kentucky coach John Calipari said recently he's not a fan of the dueling dates and that he's only interested in the NBA one.

"We're not going to worry about the (NCAA) date. Our guys will tell me when they want to tell me ... whenever the date is to make a decision by the NBA standards," Calipari said. "That's the only one we're going to the think about. So if they want to wait to make a decision by the (29th) when they have to by the NBA, that's when they'll make it.

"We're not even_I don't even know the other date, nor do I care."


FRIENDLY WAGER: A trophy and bragging rights are on the line for Kansas and Kentucky's basketball programs. For the governors of the two states it's food.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is wagering beef that the Jayhawks will earn their second national championship in four years. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has a Kentucky country ham riding on his team's chances. The winning governor will donate the food to a food bank.

Brownback noted that Kentucky coaching legend Adolph Rupp is from Kansas. He played for Phog Allen and coached high school ball before eventually landing at Kentucky.