OK, it's time: Kentucky vs. Kansas for the NCAA title

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OK, it's time: Kentucky vs. Kansas for the NCAA title

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Jayhawks or Wildcats, take your pick. Either can make a case for this being "their" year. For Kansas, a season that started with low expectations keeps getting better, filled with high-wire comebacks and an inescapable feeling that this was simply meant to be. For Kentucky, a cadre of NBA-caliber players have had the word "champion" practically imprinted on their chests since they gathered at Rupp Arena for the season's first practice. They meet Monday for the NCAA championship, a history-filled matchup between the two winningest programs in college basketball history. This is the one-and-dones at Kentucky vs. juniors and seniors at Kansas; Anthony Davis vs. Thomas Robinson in a front-court battle of All-Americans; a title-game coaching rematch between John Calipari and Bill Self; a high-stakes meeting between one team whose founder invented the game and another that likes to claim its legendary coach perfected it. Kentucky (37-2), in search of its eighth national title but its first since 1998, has five, maybe six, players who will be playing in the NBA soon. Most are freshmen and sophomores. None are better than Davis, the 6-foot-10 freshman who had 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in Kentucky's 69-61 win over Louisville in the semifinals. "Anthony Davis is a great player, but he's not Superman," Self said, clearly ignoring the fact that, only moments earlier, Davis had been walking around the Superdome with his practice jersey slung across his shoulders like a cape. As he has all year and all tournament, Calipari has not so much defended as explained his coaching philosophy, which is to go after the very best players and not demand they graduate, but only that they play team basketball for whatever amount of time they spend in the Commonwealth. "I don't like the rules," Calipari said. "I want Anthony to come back and be my point guard next year. It's really what I want. There's only two solutions to it. Either I can recruit players who are not as good as the players I'm recruiting or I can try to convince guys who should leave to stay for me." He won't do either. By pulling no punches, the coach finds himself working with the most talent -- Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are likely lottery picks, while Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb are among the others with first-round potential. Calipari is a win away from the first national title of a stormy and controversial career, one that began as a volunteer assistant at Kansas. His first two trips to the Final Four have been vacated because of NCAA violations. Though his 2008 trip with Memphis is no longer in the record books, it's clearly emblazoned in his memory. That team, led by Derrick Rose, had one essential flaw -- bad free-throw shooting -- and the coach dismissed it every time he was asked about it in the days and weeks leading to his final against Self and the Jayhawks. The Tigers missed four free throws down the stretch and blew a nine-point lead in what turned into an overtime loss that gave Kansas its third NCAA title. Lessons learned? Well, Calipari does make his team run more after bad free-throw shooting nights. But regrets? Not many. "At the end of the day, we had a nine-point lead," he said. "I have to figure something out. Go shoot the free throws myself, do something to get us out of that gym and I didn't." A year later, Cal was out of Memphis and putting the pieces in place for his run at Kentucky. It began with a trip to the Elite Eight, continued last year with a spot in the Final Four and oddsmakers have Kentucky as a 6.5-point favorite to seal the deal this year against Kansas. "Doesn't bother us," Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor said. "They've got high expectations, and they had a great year so the expectations should be high. What we think, though, is that we match up with them well. We feel confident going into this game." And why not? Though the talent level may not be as strong as Kentucky's from top to bottom, the Jayhawks (32-6) get more reinforcement every game that anything is possible. On Saturday, they overcame a 13-point deficit against Ohio State for their latest escape act. Before that in the tournament, they won close ones against Purdue, North Carolina State and North Carolina. They were comeback kids in the regular season, as well -- a season that began with low expectations for a roster that got hit hard by graduation and other departures, then fell to 7-3 after an ugly, unexpected home loss to Davidson. "I was a little frustrated because I thought that we were underachieving, underperforming," Self said. "I thought we were a stale team. I thought we were slow. I thought we didn't play with great energy. I thought the things we had to do to be successful, we weren't committing to doing them." Somewhere in that mess, however, he saw the potential. Much of it shined through thanks to the development of Robinson, known for his first two years in college as a role player with NBA skills. He was allowed to blossom when he got regular playing time this season and is averaging 17.7 points and 11.7 rebounds a game. He was the only unanimous AP All-American and was in the conversation, along with Davis, in most of the player-of-the-year voting. "We know how good Thomas Robinson is," Calipari said. "We all up here know. We went against him in New York. He is as good as they get. He's a vicious competitor, great around a rim, expanded his game." These teams met in November at Madison Square Garden, a 75-65 Kentucky victory in the second game of the season. There wasn't much conversation about that one Sunday. More noteworthy were all the historical aspects of this game. Basketball, of course, was invented by James Naismith, who later went on to establish the KU basketball program in 1898. Adolph Rupp grew up in Kansas and learned the game under Naismith and the next KU coach, Phog Allen, then moved to Kentucky. Over four decades, "the man in the brown suit" won 876 games and four NCAA championships. So many iconic names have followed at both places: Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Brown, Danny Manning at KU; Dan Issel, Wes Unseld, Rick Pitino at Kentucky. Come Monday night, somebody else could get their name up in the rafters at Allen Fieldhouse or Rupp Arena. "I dreamed about it as soon as I saw the brackets," Self said. "I did look. I said, How cool would it be to play Kentucky in the finals?' You guys know better than me, but when do you have the two winningest programs in the history of ball playing each other? I don't know when. From a historic standpoint, I think that's really cool.'"

Giants spring training Day 10: Bochy on board with new rules

Giants spring training Day 10: Bochy on board with new rules

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — During his season managing Barry Bonds, Bruce Bochy watched the slugger get intentionally walked 43 times. 

“There were (managers) who had the (signal) up before he even got to the batter’s box,” Bochy said Wednesday. 

That’s part of the reason Bochy is completely on board with a new rule stating that managers only have to signal for an intentional walk. The elimination of the four pitches has been approved by MLB and the MLBPA, with the caveat that a manager can change his mind in the middle of the plate appearance. 

“I’m fine with it,” Bochy said. “I know a few pitchers are happy because they kind of have a thing about throwing (those pitches), not on our team, but last year it happened to us and we didn’t go. I’m fine with it.”

It’s rare that an intentional ball would go to the backstop, but the Giants experienced it last year against the Yankees. Dellin Betances threw wide as he tried to put Brandon Crawford on and Angel Pagan didn’t react quickly enough to score from third. 

Bochy met with league officials last week to go over some of the new rules and ideas, and he said he wants MLB to keep pushing to cut the time of games. 

“We talk about it so much but we really haven’t done a lot,” Bochy said. “I’m all for (limiting mound visits). I’m all for it, I am. It’s gotten more and more popular in the game. It used to be the catcher, and now it’s the catcher and infielders, and they go to the mound and come back and then the pitching coach goes out there.”

EXHIBITION SCHEDULE: Bochy said Madison Bumgarner is currently slated to start Friday’s Cactus League opener, with Matt Cain also throwing an inning. Ty Blach will start Saturday, Matt Moore and Tyler Beede will pitch Sunday, and Jeff Samardzija will start Monday. It’s possible that 18 or 20 different pitchers will take the mound over the first two days since almost all of them will be scheduled for just three outs. With the exception of Will Smith, every projected Giant should see the field this weekend. Hunter Pence is the only guy who has been held back at all, but his intercostal issue has cleared up. Pence put several on the left-field berm during BP on Wednesday.

“Hunter wants to (play Friday). He's ready to go,” Bochy said. “I’ll make that call tomorrow once I talk to the staff, but Hunter assured me he’s a full go with no limitations, and he really wants to play.”

PROSPECT WATCH: Bochy took the van over to the minor league facility to watch some of the projected Triple-A players take part in live BP. Jae-gyun Hwang hit a homer off Jose Dominguez during his session. 

“He’s a guy that rotates (well) and he’s got good power,” Bochy said. “He can go the other way. He’s got some bat control. He’s got a nice swing.”

Over on the main field, Gorkys Hernandez hit an impressive homer to left-center. 

ICYMI: From this morning, Smith is being held out of workouts. Reporters spoke to him in the afternoon and he said there’s no concern. Also, here’s a podcast with Derek Law and Josh Osich. Subscribe on iTunes if you haven’t … there’s a very popular Giant coming soon.

QUOTABLE: Smith missed time last season because he tore a knee ligament while taking his shoe off, so this spring’s speed bump is somewhat easier to take. He had a message for the trainers: “I said I’m going to sit down every day this spring,” when I take my shoes off.

Cousins reacts to playing with Davis: 'We can wreak havoc on this league'

Cousins reacts to playing with Davis: 'We can wreak havoc on this league'

METAIRIE, La. -- DeMarcus Cousins says his prayers have been answered, although not necessarily in the way he expected.

The New Orleans Pelicans' newest All-Star maintained on Wednesday that he liked Sacramento and initially wasn't happy about being traded Sunday night, but added he'd become frustrated waiting through six-plus losing seasons for the Kings to add more elite players.

"I would go home, just stressed out, pulling my hair out, you know, praying, praying, praying: Just send me some help."

Cousins is the one who wound up being sent away, but to a team where he joins fellow 6-foot-11 All-Star Anthony Davis.

"Our games complement one another and being together I think is going to make both of our jobs easier," Cousins said shortly before his first Pelicans practice. "We can wreak havoc on this league. Will it happen overnight? Probably not, but our potential is scary."

Davis and Cousins debut as Pelicans teammates at home Thursday night against Houston - a game Davis has been eagerly awaiting since learning of the trade on Sunday night. The deal excited him to the point he had trouble sleeping and texted Cousins around 3 a.m. Monday. Cousins' was up, too, an texted back.

"I was up all night just thinking about how far we could go and what we could do on the court together," Davis said. "We're both excited for the rest of the season, then next year."

Cousins is averaging 27.8 points and 10.6 rebounds this season and can become a free agent in 2018 unless the Pelicans can sign him to an extension commensurate to All-Star pay.

Cousins said he's not prepared to discuss his contract situation now, but stressed, "I'm all in. I'll make the best of this opportunity and see what the future holds."

Davis is averaging 27.7 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game this season and is coming off his fourth straight All-Star game. On Sunday night, he scored an All-Star game record 52 points and was named MVP.

Without using the term "Big Three," general manager Dell Demps insinuated that he sees the two former Kentucky big men and point guard Jrue Holiday - a former Eastern Conference All-Star - in such a light.

"We just felt that those three guys, putting them together, it's exciting just to think about the possibilities," Demps said.

Holiday, who has struggled with injuries since being acquired in 2013, has been healthy this season and is averaging 16.3 points and 7.5 assists.

The key with Cousins is how he manages his notoriously combustible on-court disposition. Asked to describe how intense of a competitor he is, Cousins grinned and said, "about 17 technicals worth," referring to his league-leading technical foul total. His 16th technical foul resulted in a one-game suspension as would his 18th, 20th and every two technical after that for the duration of the season.

In describing how he and Davis would complement one another, Cousins said, "You've got a little fire; you've got a little ice."

Demps laughed and added, "I couldn't have said it better myself."

Still, Cousins said he was not averse to trying harder to reign in his emotions - a little.

"Being in the position I'm in right now, I'm going to have to turn it down a little bit, to find that balance," Cousins said. "I have to remain myself. That's the way I play. That's what makes me the player that I am, but I do have to find that fine line."

Davis said he knows Cousins is emotional and will be ready to step between him and officials or others to try to keep Cousins calm when tensions rise.

"I'm not afraid of him - at all," Davis said. "When you want to win, you've got to be comfortable telling whoever what they need to hear."

The Pelicans' can't afford any suspensions. The Cousins deal also brought New Orleans forward Omri Casspi in exchange guards Tryeke Evans, Buddy Hield, and Langston Galloway, along with first- and second-round draft picks this summer. The Pelicans need the move to pay immediate dividends. They are 2½ games out of the final Western Conference playoff spot with 25 games left.

"I'm extremely, extremely excited about the possibilities," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. "It does take time. We're going to try to make it work quickly. That may not be the case but we don't have a whole lot of margin of error right now."