ATLANTA — Kentucky is taking its highlight show back to the Big Easy.
With an NBA-like display from a young team filled with future pros, top-seeded Wildcats advanced to the Final Four for the second year in a row with a 82-70 blitzing of Baylor in the South Regional final on Sunday.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 19 points, Anthony Davis added 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Terrence Jones dazzled in all the overlooked areas, leading the Wildcats (36-2) to a Bluegrass showdown with rival Louisville in the national semifinals next Saturday at New Orleans.
For all the hoopla sure to surround that game in the basketball-crazed state, Kentucky won’t consider the season a success unless it wins two more games — culminating in a national title.
This group sure has the look of a champion, shaking off an early blow by the Bears (30-8) — a very good team with a daring fashion sense that was simply no match for John Calipari’s latest group of Fab Freshmen. Kentucky took control with an early 16-0 run and led by 20 at halftime.
They might as well have cut down the nets right then.
Calipari, in his third season at Kentucky, just keeps recruiting the best high school players in the land, molds them into a top team, then sends most of ‘em on to the NBA before they’ve barely had time to find their way to class.
Then he starts the whole process over again.
Two years ago, John Wall led Kentucky to the regional final. Last season, Brandon Knight helped guide the Wildcats to the Final Four. Now, with those guys in the NBA and Kidd-Gilchrist and Davis stopping off for what will likely be their only season in Lexington, Big Blue has a shot at what those last two teams failed to do — bringing Kentucky its first national title since 1998.
But all the talk about Calipari’s one-and-done tactics, he’s getting plenty of contributions from those who hung around beyond their freshmen year. Take Jones, a sophomore forward who passed up the draft. He scored just one point in the opening half, but his fingerprints were all over Kentucky’s dominating performance: nine rebounds, six assists, three blocks and two steals and — most in the first 10 minutes.
Then there’s Darius Miller, one of only two seniors on the roster. He gave up his starting role to Kidd-Gilchrist in this one — Kentucky essentially has six starters — but four points, two assists and two steals to the first-half blowout.
At one point, Kidd-Gilchrist had as many points as Baylor’s entire team: 17 apiece. Kentucky led 42-22 at the break and Baylor never got any closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
The Wildcats left New Orleans earlier this month disappointed with a loss in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
Quincy Acy led Baylor with 22 points.