No. 9 Kansas snapped a three-game losing streak on one of college basketball’s toughest courts as the Jayhawks took an early punch from Kentucky and held the Wildcats down for the rest of the way in a 77-68 win Saturday at Rupp Arena. Jalen Wilson led the Jayhawks with 22 points and Kansas dominated Kentucky on the offensive glass to end the Wildcats’ four-game winning streak and avenge last season’s 80-62 loss at home to the Wildcats.
The game was the standout showdown of the SEC/Big 12 Final Challenge, and it was presented with both teams playing well in a battle of the most winning programs in sports. Kentucky jumped out to an early 11-6 lead, but Kansas weathered the storm and never trailed again after the 9:35 mark of the first half. With the victory, KU avoided its first four-game losing streak under its 20-year-old head coach, Bill Self.
Oscar Chipuiy led Kansas with 18 points and nine rebounds, but the Jayhawks negated his influence on the offensive glass by finishing with an 11-0 lead on second chance points. Kentucky entered the game ranked No. 5 nationally in offensive rebounds per game at 14 while Kansas ranked No. 145 in the same category at 10.7 per game.
With the Jayhawks relying on a junior center in KJ Adams Jr. And the Wildcats boast one of the best players in the game in Tshiebwe, it looks like the UK will have a clear advantage on the glass. Instead, it was Kansas that dominated in this regard while pulling off a much needed victory. Adams finished with 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting while Kevin McCullar Jr. played through injury to finish with 11 points and 12 rebounds for the Jayhawks.
Wilson Case National Player of the Year
It was Wilson’s 12th game with 20 or more points this season, as the redshirt youngster continued to make his case for National Player of the Season. The 6-foot-8 forward made 18-of-18 shots from the ground and came up with huge shots in the second half as Jay Hook answered every Kentucky run. After the Wildcats closed out to within 51-50 at the 11:55 mark, Wilson immediately dug a three-pointer. He then made his three shot attempts in the final seven minutes, including a jump dagger with 1:52 remaining that put KU ahead 75-68.
It will be tough to beat Purdue’s Zack Eddy in the National MVP race, but Wilson continues to put up huge performances against good opponents for a Kansas team with legitimate aspirations to repeat as a national champion.
Kansas gets help from an unlikely source
When KJ Adams left the game after committing his second foul with 7:58 left in the first half, Kansas turned to backup center Zuby Ejiofor. But when Ejiofor left the game after less than a minute due to injury, Self was forced deeper into the bench than he had expected. He turned to new center Ernst Ode Jr., who has averaged just 6.9 minutes in just 14 games this season.
Comeback has appeared in only two games this month, but has given the Jayhawks a crucial 12 minutes, which equals his most time on the field in any game since mid-November. Kansas outscored Kentucky by six with Ode on the floor finishing with 4 points on 2-of-2 shooting and pulling down a few rebounds while getting the better of Chibui on the inside.
Weak shooting bites KFC
After a quadruple 4 loss at home to South Carolina on Jan. 10 fell Kentucky to 1-3, the Wildcats clearly turned a corner during a four-game winning streak over the past two weeks. However, the Wildcats only made 25.7% of their three throws over that stretch, and the poor outside shooting finally caught up to them against Kansas.
Kentucky only hit 2 of 13 shots from outside the arc and Casson Wallace was responsible for both types. CJ Fredrick and Antonio Reeves – a pair of transfers he’s lauded for perimeter shooting – combined to go 0-for-8 from deep. Poor shooting is a new development for the Wildcats, who made 35.4% of their three shots as a team in the first 16 games of the season. If Kentucky is going to quickly put a Kansas loss behind it and build on the progress it has made since losing to the Gamecocks, it will need to find better shooting from somewhere. Wallace is doing his part, but the persistence of Reeves and Frederick will be essential to this team’s long-term success.
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