By Steve Ginsburg
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Kentucky took a bold step toward winning its first national basketball championship since 1998 by defeating bitter intrastate rival Louisville 69-61 in the semi-finals of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday at the Superdome.
"We got a game closer to our dreams, our goal," said Kentucky's freshman forward Anthony Davis, who led the Wildcats with 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Kentucky, buoyed by shooting 60 percent from the field, held a 35-28 lead at intermission.
Louisville (30-10) fought hard, overcoming a 13-point second-half deficit and tied the score at 49-49 on a three-point bomb by junior guard Peyton Siva with just over nine minutes left.
But Kentucky reserve guard Darius Miller scored five points in an 11-2 surge that gave the Wildcats a 60-51 lead with 4:29 remaining to put the game on ice.
"I'm proud of this team," said Kentucky coach John Calipari. "They're coming together. They're taking on shots and runs like Louisville did today and they've held their own. I'm so proud of them."
Davis, the consensus player of the year in college basketball, was a force on both ends of the floor for Kentucky, while Louisville, which shot only 34.8 percent from the floor, was paced by Siva's 11 points.
Kentucky appeared to seize control of the game with an 8-0 run early in the second half, turning a five-point lead into a 45-32 advantage with just over 16 minutes to play before the Cardinals came roaring back.
Despite shooting poorly, Louisville took 20 more shots than Kentucky (69-49) and stayed in the game by holding a 40-33 edge in rebounds.
"There are no moral victories when you're trying to win a national championship," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. "But I couldn't be prouder. A lot of great teams did not get here."
In a contest seen by many as a civil war in the state of Kentucky, the Big East Tournament champion Cardinals, who lost to Kentucky 69-62 in December, fired blanks for most of the night but stayed around long enough to make it a game.
But that might not be a problem for coach Calipari, who saw four of his players from last year's Final Four team selected in the June NBA Draft but was able to re-load.
(Reporting By Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Larry Fine)