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March 25, 2012

Cats handle Baylor, earn Final Four trip

ATLANTA - He barely needed the ladder, but Anthony Davis took a couple steps up it anyway, his long limbs outstretched to clip a bit of net from a Georgia Dome rim.

The Kentucky freshman was snipping the standard souvenir for a trip to the Final Four, his Wildcats having earned the trip with Sunday's 82-70 win against Baylor in the South Regional Final.

"An indescribable feeling," Davis would say later, his knees icing in the UK locker room.

Davis was smiling as he climbed that ladder, and his teammates were cutting up as he cut the net. But it was a mostly subdued celebration for top-seeded Kentucky (36-2), which advanced to its second straight Final Four.

That doesn't mean the Wildcats weren't savoring the moment.

On Saturday, they'll face Louisville at the Final Four, a meeting between two of college basketball's biggest rivals on the sport's biggest stage.

And though the Wildcats were peppered with questions about that game within a half hour of advancing to the Final Four, they weren't sweating an upcoming opponent.

They were still soaking in a victory.

"We do get a day (to enjoy it)," senior Darius Miller said. "We're definitely not worried about that right now. This feels good. We're all taking it in, especially the younger guys. We could care less at this point about who we play."

Not everyone feels that way.

As the Wildcats wound down their win against Baylor on Sunday, UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart looked up to the video boards at the Georgia Dome and caught a glimpse of the CBS feed, where highlights of Kentucky's 69-62 win against the Cardinals from Dec. 31 were airing.

"The game wasn't even over yet," Barnhart said.

Not officially. Effectively, it had been over for some time.

Baylor (30-8) came out of the gate looking not only like the more capable team but also the more confident. When Quincy Miller dropped in a three-pointer to put the Bears in front 10-5 with 16:17 to play, he let his hand dangle in the air a moment as John Calipari called a timeout.

That was Baylor's moment. It didn't last long.

Kentucky responded with a 16-0 run that would give it a 21-10 lead, and the rout was just starting. By halftime, UK had stretched its margin to 42-22, and it seemed Baylor might never threaten.

"I just think we got real aggressive on offense and defense and just mentally locked down on defense, and (that) led to fast breaks on offense," said forward Terrence Jones, who finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three blocked shots and two steals.

The Bears might never have put a scare into the Wildcats if not for a Davis' brush with second-half disaster. The freshman was fouled on a drive to the basket with 18:38 to play in the game and banged knees with Baylor's Perry Jones III.

Davis lay on the floor in obvious pain before being helped to the bench. He would return, but the initial uncertainty seemed to sap some of the energy out of Kentucky - and it mostly blue-clad crowd of 24,035.

A lead that once ballooned to 23 points was whittled to 10 in the final minute, but Baylor scarcely felt like a threat.

"I pulled back the reins a little bit trying to just get out of the gym, and (that was) probably a mistake," Calipari said. "They gutted it out and did what they had to do and (made) plays so (Baylor) couldn't get close enough to catch us."

Balanced scoring kept Baylor at bay. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 19 points before fouling out. Davis had 18 points and Doron Lamb 14.

It was for the most part a spectacular performance. And that Kentucky is capable of so thoroughly dominating a 30-win, third-seeded team might say something about why the Wildcats were so relaxed as they stepped up to cut down the nets.

Though UK wants to revel in this Final Four for a day, the Cats see their work as only beginning.

"We pretty much want to win it all," point guard Marquis Teague said. "That's why we're here. That's been our main goal since Day 1. We're happy about the success we had this season and all that, but we want to win it all."

And the Cats have looked capable of that so far. UK is wining its NCAA Tournament games by an average of more than 14 points per game, and the Cats are scoring 88 points per game in the tournament.

"I think in coaching you get done playing a team, and the first thing you think is, 'Are they what you thought?'" Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "This (Kentucky) team's actually better than I thought."

So maybe that's why there were high-fives and smiles but not fist-pumps and shouts in the moments after Sunday's game.

The Wildcats want it all. They'll celebrate if they get it.

"We're not going to stop here," Davis said. "This shouldn't be where we stop. It's great to get to the Final Four, but even greater to be on that ladder when you win the national championship. That's the best feeling."

Video: UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart talks about the Wildcats advancing to the Final Four.

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