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Familiar foes: Kansas, Kentucky will battle for NCAA title

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari (L) talks to his player Anthony Davis during the first half against the Louisville Cardinals of the men's NCAA Final Four semi-final college basketball game in New Orleans, Louisiana, March 31, 2012. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Well, this matchup is going to look familiar.

John Calipari and his Kentucky juggernaut will face Kansas for the national championship on Monday night. That would be the same Kansas team that beat Memphis in overtime for the NCAA title in 2008, back when Calipari was coaching the Tigers. It also would be the same Kansas team that the Wildcats beat back in November.

"We're worried about us playing at our best," Calipari said after Kentucky held off pesky Louisville 69-61 in the first semifinal. "We did not play at our best tonight. We played good, but that wasn't our best. You know what? So maybe Monday is our best. We're just worried about us."

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Top-seeded Kentucky (37-2) is back in the title game for the first time since 1998, when it won its seventh NCAA championship.

Down 13 in the first half, resilient Kansas (32-6) needed a furious comeback against Ohio State to reach the championship game, where it will play for its fourth NCAA title.

That 2008 squad Calipari had in Memphis was stocked with talent, led by future NBA MVP Derrick Rose. But the Wildcats are in a totally different class. Anthony Davis has won just about every player of the year award there is, and Louisville coach Rick Pitino likened him to Bill Russell after Saturday night's game.

No wonder. The 19-year-old doesn't look like a freshman, and he certainly doesn't play like one, recording his nation-high 20th double-double against Louisville with 18 points and 14 rebounds. He missed just one of his eight shots, and also had five blocks and a steal.

"Anthony Davis is as fine a basketball player as there is," Pitino said.

Then there are the rest of the Wildcats.

They shot a blistering 57 per cent Saturday night and had two other players besides Davis in double figures. Darius Miller had 13 points, and Doron Lamb had 10. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had nine, despite playing just 23 minutes because of foul trouble.

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"Kentucky is a great basketball team, with great effort," Pitino said.

He doesn't need to tell the Jayhawks; they experienced it firsthand in the State Farm Champions Classic.

With the score tied at 30 a minute into the second half, the Wildcats broke loose with an 11-0 run. Two free throws from Tyshawn Taylor stopped the spurt, but Marquis Teague had a dunk and Doron Lamb hit consecutive 3s. Moments after an airball, Lamb drilled another 3 and Kentucky had a 54-37 with 10:05 to play.

The victory was Calipari's first in four games against Kansas, where he began his coaching career as a volunteer assistant in 1982.

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