NEW ORLEANS — Bragging rights in the Bluegrass State are mighty nice.
Kentucky has its sights set higher.
Anthony Davis and top-seeded Kentucky are right where they planned to be all along, playing for the national title after finally putting away pesky Louisville 69-61 in the Final Four on Saturday night.
"I have a team that's had teams come at them all year," coach John Calipari said, "and they responded again (Saturday)."
It will be Kentucky's first appearance in the title game since it won a seventh NCAA crown in 1998 and gives Calipari another shot at the title that has eluded him. The Wildcats (37-2) face Kansas on Monday night.
As the final seconds ticked down, Davis pointed to the court and screamed twice, "This is my stage!"
Yes, yes it is.
With a star-studded roster that includes at least three and maybe as many as five NBA lottery draft picks, Kentucky was made the top seed in the tournament and the heavy favorite to cut down the nets when the event was done. And Calipari wouldn't let his young players consider anything else, saying repeatedly this was "just another game."
But playing in-state rival Louisville (30-10) is never just that, and the Cardinals made Kentucky work deep into the second half to grind the victory out.
Louisville outrebounded Kentucky 40-33, including a whopping 19-6 on the offensive glass, the sole reason the Cardinals made a game of it.
"To tell you the truth, I haven't always liked some of the Kentucky teams. I'm not going to lie to you," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who counts as something of an expert after spending eight years in Lexington and the past 11 with the Cardinals. "But I really like this team a lot because of their attitude and the way they play.
"I'll certainly be rooting for them hard to bring the trophy back to Kentucky. … They're a great group of guys, doing a tremendous job."
Calipari took a phenom-laden roster to the Final Four last year, only to see his season come unglued against eventual national champion Connecticut. The Wildcats said all week they weren't going to let the same thing happen this time, and it showed in their workmanlike effort.
No matter how close Louisville got, the Cardinals were never able to control the game. When they made a run, Kentucky found a way to stop them. When one of the Wildcats ran into foul trouble, the others picked him up.
Kentucky played so hard, Davis went flying off the court twice, sailing onto media row once.
"They made runs, and we made our runs. That's what coach always says," said Terrence Jones, who finished with six points and seven rebounds. "We never get rattled."