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Curtain call greets triumphant Wildcats

Another championship banner has been unfurled at Rupp Arena.

Kentucky's basketball team returned home to its adoring fans Tuesday after defeating Kansas, 67-59, Monday night to win the school's eighth NCAA championship.

Blue-clad fans erupted into deafening cheers as the team pulled into the packed arena aboard a sleek blue bus emblazoned with "national champions."

It was a joyous curtain call for a team led by a talented group of freshmen and sophomores. The NBA likely beckons next for several of them.

Each team member was introduced to loud ovations as players and coaches took the stage in the middle of the arena. Senior Darius Miller, a basketball net draped around his neck, toted the NCAA championship trophy to a table. Coach John Calipari pumped his fist and raised his arms in triumph as he basked in the cheers.

"You know why we won the national title? Folks, we have the best players and we have the best team," he said as the crowd erupted.

Calipari reminded the crowd that his goal three seasons ago when he took the Kentucky coaching job was to restore the Wildcats to the "gold standard" in college basketball and to raise more championship banners.

Then on cue, the 2012 title banner slowly unfurled from the rafters at Rupp as the Kentucky pep band played and fans cheered.

Calipari thanked the fans and said there were about 5,000 that welcomed the team at the airport and more lined the streets between the airport and Rupp Arena.

"You people never cease to amaze me," he told the crowd.

Calipari praised the chemistry of a team stocked with future NBA players.

"Just talent alone, folks, does not get it done," he said. "It doesn't. These young men sacrificed for each other. They respected one another."

He noted that Miller, a senior and starter in the past, accepted his role as a key backup player.

Freshman standout Michael Kidd-Gilchrist asked to give up his starting role to Miller in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game to help jump-start Miller's play, Calipari said. Shot-blocking phenom Anthony Davis credited his teammates for helping him rack up player of the year awards, the coach said.

Just like at basketball games, the die-hard fans arrived early at Rupp. They watched replays of the title game played in New Orleans the night before, and sometimes broke into chants of "Go Big Blue" as if they were at a game. Scoreboards displayed the final score of the championship game.


SU set for first Battle of Midway

SAN DIEGO -- San Diego State and Syracuse will play in the inaugural Battle on the Midway basketball game on the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum on Nov. 9.

"San Diego State has become one of the best teams in the West and Syracuse is a perennial powerhouse," Al Kidd of the San Diego Sports Commission said Tuesday. "The game is a great matchup with West meeting East to kick off their seasons in beautiful San Diego in a nationally televised broadcast. We have a tremendous matchup that is sure to capture the interests of basketball fans."

Syracuse earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament before losing to Ohio State in the East Regional final, finishing 34-3. San Diego State shared the Mountain West Conference regular-season championship and earned its third straight NCAA berth during a 26-8 season.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim called it "a tremendous honor" to play in the game.

"It will be a great experience for our players to compete against a quality program like San Diego State and at the same time be a part of Veterans Day weekend activities in San Diego," he said.

Last Nov. 11, North Carolina beat Michigan State in the inaugural Carrier Classic on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson.

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