“That’s one of the best parts of his game, his defense. He can do that without having the ball. It’s just great having him on defense for us. He helped us out big tonight,” Jones said after the 69-57 win that gave the Wildcats their first national championship since 1998.
Davis also set a single-season blocked shot record by a freshman by increasing his total to 186, the best in the nation this year. That was a huge reason Kentucky also led the nation in field-goal percentage defense and limited Kansas to just 35.5 percent shooting.
“I told my teammates I was going to defense. I let my teammates do all the scoring and I just focused on defending,” said Davis, who had six points and failed to score in double figures for just the eighth time in 40 games.
Davis credited Kansas center Jeff Withey for making him struggle. He missed nine of 10 shots and did not score in the first half.
“He was great defensively and I struggled, so I just didn’t try to force shots,” he said. “I have to give credit to my team. Everybody is talking about me, but it was my teammates. Without them I would not have been able to get any of this praise. All the credit goes to them tonight.”
Others were a little more lavish in their praise of Davis, who had the rare game where he was a dominating factor without scoring.¿He also had 16 rebounds — his second best total — along with five steals and three assists to go with his six points and six blocks.
“He is highly efficient. He doesn’t force things. He is very, very efficient. Gets to the free throw line and has a nice touch. His poise is remarkable for a first-year guy. He just never seems to get flustered. He has been well within himself,” CBS-TV analyst Clark Kellogg said. “I typically don’t watch kids prior to college because I don’t want to be tainted by what they were. I want to watch them when they get to college.
“I had heard and read about him, but I¿had not seen him at all.¿It was a revelation to me, but it was a pleasant surprise that he has grown as much as he has in a short period of time. You can see he possesses a smaller guy’s skills with the big guy shot blocking. That is a lethal combination.”
Another CBS analyst, Greg Anthony, says Davis is a “phenomenal” shot blocker and “unique talent” unlike any other player in college basketball because of the versatility he showed against Kansas.
“I think with Davis that best way to attack him is go right at him and attack at rim. The only weakness he may have is that he does not have a lot of lower body strength and leverage. If you try to face him and shoot, he can extend out and block shots. Then he runs to the rim in transition both ways. He’s just a load even if he’s not scoring,” analyst Steve Kerr said.
Davis led Kentucky in scoring (14.3 points per game), rebounding (10.3 rebounds per game), steals (54), blocked shots (186) and field goal percentage (.623). He also hit 71 percent at the foul line and had just 41 turnovers in 40 games.
“I knew Anthony would be this good,” fellow Kentucky freshmanMichael Kidd-Gilchristsaid. “We both love to win. Both me and him. He is so long, too. I wanted to have a great season with these guys and knew Anthony would be the big reason why.”
Eloy Vargas certainly knew how to evaluate what kind of player Davis would be. Vargas, a senior, practiced against DeMarcus Cousins, a lottery pick, two years ago. He went against Enes Kanter, a lottery pick, some last season before Kanter was deemed ineligible and then also went against Josh Harrellson, a second-round draft pick. And he’s seen plenty of Davis this season.
“They are different in different ways,” Vargas said. “Anthony is long and blocks shots. Enes was a big dude working the paint. Josh and DeMarcus were physical. They all had different game and it’s kind of tough to say who is the best. They have all helped me and I¿know Anthony is the hardest worker of them all. Sometimes he would come into the gym late at night and I would see him working out, too.
“He got a lot more aggressive as the season went on. At the beginning of the season, he was not taking enough shots. But at the end, he wanted the ball.”
Vargas says UK fans didn’t get to see Davis’ real personality often because he was so calm and mild-mannered on the court no matter what happened.
“He is a funny dude, too, but not all the time. Behind the scenes he is pretty fun when fans can’t see him. Come game time, he has his game face on and just plays,” Vargas said.