John Calipari's living legacy was at stake during the championship game.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It wasn't David vs. Goliath on the floor, at least not the way many painted it.
Yes, this Kentucky team was a statistical force, a dominating outfit in league, which entered the NCAA Tournament with just two blemishes. But it wasn't the best team nationally for the majority of the season -- that honor went to Syracuse with Fab Melo (29-1).
On the other end, Kansas was no slouch, owners of 11 top-50 victories, a Big 12 regular-season title and the lone club standing from a Midwest region that included Georgetown, Michigan and mighty North Carolina.
Yes, Kentucky was the better team on paper, and the differences weren't like splitting hairs, but this wasn't the Sisters of the Poor on the opposing bench. The Jayhawks had a wealth of talent led by first-team All-American Thomas Robinson.
The true David vs. Goliath moniker applied to the expectations game. As unfathomable as it was to say, the Jayhawks, one of college basketball's storied programs, entered Monday night playing with house money. They had overachieved all season, fighting back self-doubts coming nationally from every direction. They had all surpassed their media-imposed ceiling.
Kentucky, on the other hand, was in the prototypical no-win situation, the expected victor who with a loss would have been vilified as the underachieving vanquished. The pressure was even greater for head coach John Calipari, even though he didn't want to admit it.
His living legacy was at stake. Was he the architect of an NBA-feeder program or a collegiate dynasty? Was he an in-game orchestrator or a crafty salesman on the road who hung by the noose of expectations as the seconds ticked and the pressure mounted?
Calipari had been in this moment before, last year in the Final Four, and in the title game with Memphis in 2008. He had come close, but close is an adjective that only exasperates expectations, doesn't relinquish them.
That was the David vs. Goliath battle, an expectations game that couldn't be tempered. Yet, at long last, the noose isn't as tight and expectations have been met.
The team with the most talent, the club that passed every eye test and blew through the statistical ceiling as a defensive juggernaut realized its promise in a 67-59 victory over a tough-minded Kansas team that didn't quit.
Kentucky showed it was more than its freshmen phenom Anthony Davis, who scored just six points on 1-of-10 shooting but pulled down 16 rebounds to go along with six blocks. Doron Lamb was fantastic from the perimeter with 22 points and Marquis Teague continued his improved play during the tournament with 14 points and just two turnovers.
Yes, the Wildcats started to scoreboard watch down the stretch, slowing to a standstill and milking the final seconds away as the Jayhawks grew closer, but when they needed to, they turned it up to another gear only they can reach.
We talked in this space about Kentucky's team defense -- and not just Davis' shot-blocking ability -- since early January. It has never been all about blocking shots, but rather altering and contesting more shots than any other team. It held Kansas to 35.5 percent shooting and forced Robinson into a 6- of-17 shooting night.
"It was all about our defense," Calipari said after the game.
And that's an expressive feat for a team built on a foundation of youth. That youth, led by the tournament's Most Outsanding Player Davis, played well beyond its years for 40 minutes, and in the process, captured Kentucky's first national championship since 1998.
David vs. Goliath was a game within a game of powerhouses. Kentucky started to stumble amidst the mind game down the stretch, but stood tall late with a key three (from Teague) and a big block (from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist), making the plays when they needed to be made.
That's the characteristic of Goliath, and better yet, it's the characteristic of a champion.
Trexler is the author of "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out Your Hoops Bracket." Stay tuned on an updated hardcopy edition this winter! Trexler also wrote "Penn State Football: An Interactive Guide To The World of Sports", a detailed look at the Nittany Lions' storied football history. It can be purchased HERE.