Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 2/25/12
LEXINGTON, Ky - Kentucky Coach John Calipari eschewed a celebration of his program's 45th SEC title Saturday because he wants his uber-talented team focused on winning the Big Tournament at the end of the season. The folks who deliver the National Player of the Year trophy around that time might want to double-check their directions to Lexington. Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis delivered a statement about who truly is the nation's best player Saturday with a 28-point, 11-rebound, 6-block performance in a game the No. 1 Wildcats had to scrap to win over Vanderbilt, 83-74. It's a game Kentucky might not have won if not for three Davis shots that beat the shot clock and extended a lead that the Commodores kept chipping into. Most of those momentum-changing runs and highlight-reel dunks that have become staples of Kentucky's season start with Davis either blocking a shot, deflecting a pass or turning a missed shot into a second-chance opportunity, and it was no different Saturday. Davis is listed at 6'10 but seems to be growing hourly, and shots that carom off the back of the rim and up higher than the shot clock are only slightly out of his reach. "(Davis) only took 11 shots, he made 10," Calipari said. "He's just unselfish. "I told everybody after the game what they did, and how good, and I said to Anthony, 'You were pretty good, too.' The whole team started laughing." Kentucky has won 20 straight games is 28-1 on the season because the Wildcats are deep, athletic and unselfish. On a team full of guys who seemingly glide down the court and play above the rim, none soar -- or send opposing shots soaring into the third row -- the way Davis does. The Wildcats are far from a one-man show. Four players have double-figure scoring averages, lightning-quick point guard Marquis Teague is getting more confident by the day and senior glue guy Darius Miller had all nine of his points in the final 10 minutes Saturday, but it's Davis who takes Kentucky from simply loaded to potentially immortal. If it makes sense, Davis' offensive contributions were mostly of the quiet -- yet efficient -- variety until the final four minutes Saturday. Twice in four possessions during that span, with Kentucky protecting slim leads, Teague held the ball at the top of the key with the shot clock inside 10 and more than 23,000 blue-clad coaches in the stands imploring Teague to attack the basket. Both times he eventually did, and both times he ended up passing the ball to Davis. On the first, Davis calmly beat 6'11 Festus Ezeli and the shot clock with a turnaround 10-foot jumper. On the second, he stepped out and sunk an 18-footer. It can be easy to forget that a little over two years ago Davis was a 6'2 guard who played almost exclusively on the perimeter. It's not easy to forget the variety of ways in which he's now turned back two Vanderbilt upset bids. "It seemed like every time they needed to do something, Davis got it done for them," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "He was spectacular." Davis has undergone another growth spurt over the last two months, this one of the maturing and adjusting to college defenses variety. What's really scary for the rest of the NCAA Tournament field in March -- and really tantalizing to fans of the NBA's most terrible teams -- is that Davis is just getting on a roll. "I'm definitely more comfortable than I was at the beginning of the season," Davis said. "I'm more relaxed. You have to believe in yourself. "I just came out and played my game today." In regard to the Player of the Year race, Thomas Robinson of Kansas is a dominant player on a really good team who's posted outstanding numbers of nearly 18 points and 12 rebounds per game. Davis is averaging 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 4.8 blocks, and he's consistently changing games at both ends of the floor. Davis would be a deserving winner -- Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year are practically already in the mail -- but he said he currently has other priorities. "That would be great, but it's just an award," Davis said. "My main focus is on winning a national championship." Saturday's game was both a stiff and necessary test for Kentucky. Four days after rallying from 13 down to beat Mississippi State on the road, the young Wildcats faced their first return game against an NCAA Tournament-quality opponent. The Wildcats and Commodores had split their season series in three of the last four years, and Vanderbilt rallied from 13 down two weeks ago in Nashville to lead before Kentucky's strong closing kick gave the Wildcats a six-point victory. Saturday, Vanderbilt matched Kentucky's spurts with 3-point shots and looked like it might score its first win in Rupp Arena since 2007. That was BC -- Before Calipari, and before guys like Davis who aren't on campus long but make a heck of an impact while they're here. The first time Vanderbilt threw the ball in the post to Ezeli Saturday, Davis blocked his shot while barely leaving his feet. A few minutes later, Ezeli picked up a loose ball under the basket but feared Davis was coming and looked over his shoulder before missing from close range. What shows up in the stat sheet is just the icing. Said Ezeli: "He did whatever he wanted to do." He's done it all year, and so has Kentucky. The biggest games and truest tests await, but Kentucky certainly looks like a No. 1 and team that still has some upside. If the Wildcats end up hanging another national championship banner in the rafters six weeks from now, the guy wears No. 23 and can practically reach the rafters from his tip-toes will be the biggest reason why.
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