NEW ORLEANS — When Kentucky finished its shootaround Monday at the Superdome, coach John Calipari predicted to his team that Doron Lamb would score 25 points in the national championship game against Kansas.
“He just told us Doron was shooting great and was on fire the whole practice,” Kentucky forward Eloy Vargas said. “Coach said he knew he was going to have a great shooting game. He didn’t get 25, but he got 22 and that’s not too bad.”
Lamb’s 22 points in the 67-59 victory over Kansas helped the Wildcats win their eighth national title. He was 7 for 12 from the field and 3 for 6 from 3-point range. Kentucky got only seven field goals the second half after building an 18-point lead in the first half, but Lamb had back-to-back 3-pointers in the second half.
“At the shootaround when I watched him, I said he'd get 30 tonight. I'm a little disappointed he only got 22. I exaggerated, I said 25,” Calipari said. “He is as good a guard when his motor is moving as any guard in the country. He can play multiple positions. He shoots it. He makes free throws. He's good with the ball. He's crafty. I knew he'd have a big game. I knew it.”
Lamb was hoping Calipari was right.
“I had a great shootaround. He told me I'd have 25 today, but I had 22. It feels great. My sophomore year, a championship, my second time to the Final Four, can't get no better than that.
“It means a lot to me. I worked hard to get here. Coach Cal told me I'm going to have a big game today. Had a great shootaround. I made a lot of shots today and helped my team to win.”
While Lamb is Kentucky’s most prolific shooter, he has had to learn how to drive inside, play better defense and score within Calipari’s team system — all things he showcased in the championship game as well as most of the season. He also went over the 1,000-point mark — he has 1,118 points — with the championship performance.
“I don't care who gets the spotlight really. I just go out there and play hard and try to win game. We won the whole championship, so I'm just happy for my teammates,” he said. “I just go play my role and do what I have to do to win games. If I am wide open I will knock it down and make plays for myself and my teammates.”
Lamb was smiling and dancing with teammate Marquis Teague during the pregame introductions. He was grinning on the national championship podium with teammates during the postgame ceremony.
“We were loose all year. There ain’t no pressure on us really. We just had to go out and finish games,” Lamb said. “We had to play every game like it was our last game. Kansas was a great team. But there was no pressure on us. We have a great team, great players. If we just played our roles, we were going to win games. We actually thought it was kind of fun to be the favorite and have everybody coming at us.”
Lamb said it was hard to explain why this team filled with future NBA first-round draft picks bonded so well from the start.
“I don’t know. We all like each other. We hang out off the court and go to movies and stuff. We do a lot of things together. We all have a great friendship, and it shows on the court. We played great as a team. We played great defense, talked and had a lot of fun,” Lamb said.
“We never have fights or anything like that. We like each other and have a great time with each other and we go on the court and love that. We played great with each other.”
Lamb credited Calipari’s “family approach” for much of the team’s success and attitude.
“After practice, we always go places together. Eat together, movies together. We do everything together. We are always like that. We are always laughing, joking. We are never mad at each other,”¿he said. “On the court we have a great friendship. We run the court together, get back on defense, rebound together and try to win games.
“He is a great coach, great motivator. He gets you to play your best every play of your life. He expects a lot out of you. I know he is hard because he wants me to be great. I work hard and know that if I listen to him, we will win games.I have always been yelled at by coaches even when I¿was young. I¿am used to that. It does not affect me or my game if I get yelled at. It doesn’t bother me that much because I know he is for me.”
Lamb thought of leaving Kentucky after his freshman season for the NBA, but like teammate Terrence Jones, he came back to win the title he got Monday night. He has refused to speculate on what lies ahead, even though he’s projected a late first-round draft choice to early second round pick.
“I just wanted to finish my season with a bang and go our strong. I go out there every game and play like my last. Every time I¿play a game,¿I try to go out there and play hard. I’ve always been that way and there was no reason to change that,” he said. “I am not thinking about the NBA. I just wanted to finish my college season and win the whole thing.¿If the NBA comes, it comes. But I¿am not going to worry about that.
“We had a great thing going and winning a lot of games and had a great season. I¿don’t think any of us worried about anything but this season and that’s why we were so successful. It was never about me or anybody else.It was about our team.”
That’s why Lamb said he never worried even when Kansas made a late run to get within five points of Kentucky.
“We huddled up and at that moment we just wanted to get stops. We told ourselves we got to get stops to win the game. At the end of the game, we got stops. Marquis (Teague) made the big 3, made two foul shots and I made two foul shots, and that was the game.”