No. 2/1 Kansas overcomes No. 4/4 Kentucky, 79-73
LEXINGTON, Ky. – With their backs against the wall, the Jayhawks showed their true blue-blood colors in a 79-73 victory over No. 4/4 Kentucky in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Saturday night at Rupp Arena.
Despite KU’s No. 1 ranking in the coaches’ poll, no one in the country gave the Jayhawks (19-2) a fighting chance on the road against fourth-ranked Kentucky. ESPN College GameDay was on hand before the game – none of the show’s personalities picked KU to win. Rupp Arena set a Guinness World Record for indoor crowd cheer. KU had just eight scholarship student-athletes on-hand in Lexington after its first loss in 18 games earlier in the week at West Virginia.
But nothing can stop a team working as one unit.
Frank Mason III scored 21 points on Saturday in Lexington.
National player of the year front-runner Frank Mason III scored a game-high 21 points and freshman phenom Josh Jackson poured in 20 points with 10 rebounds to usher the Jayhawks to their second-straight win over the Wildcats (17-4). It marked the third time this season that Mason and Jackson both scored at least 20 points each.
Junior guard Devonte’ Graham added 12 points and tied his career high of seven rebounds as KU’s backcourt out-matched Kentucky’s lightning-fast backcourt of freshmen – Malik Monk (18 points) and De’Aaron Fox (10 points).
“It is very satisfying to win here,” Bill Self said. “Of course I know it means a lot to the fans of both schools, and certainly there’s a lot of tradition on the line […] I think sometimes when you’re a little bit [so-called] depleted that creates more focus. We don’t switch defenses much; we did tonight more than we have in a long time and I thought our guys were pretty focused.”
The Jayhawks recovered from a 12-point first-half deficit with an offensive onslaught in the second half, featuring 59 percent shooting from the field, 26 points in the paint, and five 3-pointers. KU outscored UK in the second half, 52-41, for the win.
Kansas forced 17 Kentucky turnovers – tying a season high for the Wildcats – and converted those miscues into 21 points.
Kentucky won the opening tip in front of 24,418 fans inside Rupp Arena and Kansas made a defensive stop as UK missed a layup on the first possession. A Jackson pull-up jumper gave Kansas an early 2-0 lead to spark and back-and-forth exchange between the blue-blood teams. UK’s Monk and KU’s Mason traded three fast-break layups within 15 seconds to set the tone for a thoroughbred matchup of elite guards on both sides of the court.
Junior guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk banked a layup attempt to senior center Landen Lucas for what passed as an alley-oop and Mason sank a second-chance floater to give the Jayhawks an 8-7 lead four minutes into regulation.
But Kentucky went a seemingly insurmountable 16-3 run to extended its lead to a game-high 12 points three times during a five-minute span midway through the first half.
Graham began to ignite KU’s offense late in the first half when he scored his first points of the night at the 2:53 mark of the opening half, pulling Kansas within nine 31-22. The Jayhawks and Wildcats then traded a combined five empty offensive possessions before Jackson made a layup at the 1:28 mark.
Junior forward Dwight Coleby added to KU’s late first-half rally with a steal which was transitioned to a sprinting Graham, who assisted an alley-oop to sophomore guard Lagerald Vick. Vick’s thunderous jam brought KU within five by halftime, 32-27.
By halftime, Jackson led the Jayhawks with 10 points and five rebounds in the first half. Kentucky, averaging 90 points per game this season, was held to its fewest first-half points this season (32) by the Kansas defense.
The Jayhawks shot 0-for-8 from 3-point range in the first half, but Jackson wasted little time in reversing that trend in the second half – making two treys on KU’s first two possessions to give KU its first lead since early in the first half, 33-32.
Kentucky responded with a pair of 3-pointers to regain a five-point lead, 33-38. A put-back dunk by Coleby, a coast-to-coast layup from Mason, and an and-1 layup by Lucas helped the Jayhawks chip away at the Wildcats second-half lead.
After Graham made a 3-pointer to give Kansas a five-point lead, 54-49 with 11:30 remaining, UK answered with Derek Willis’ fifth trey of the night. Willis made his first five attempts from beyond the arc, but that would be his last of the night as KU continued to mount a comeback. Kentucky’s last lead in the game, 59-58, was after a put-back dunk by Fox with 8:13 remaining.
Coming out of the under eight-minute media timeout, Jackson attempted a back-door layup and tipped-in his own miss to give KU what turned out to be the go-ahead lead, 60-59. Mason – a 53-percent 3-point shooter – cushioned KU’s lead with a wide-open trey, forcing a UK timeout.
The dynamic-duo of Mason and Graham showed they have each other’s back – Mason missed a fast break layup and Graham was right there with an athletic tip-in to give KU a 67-59 lead. Lucas finished the night 6-for-6 from the field. His sixth field goal in the paint gave KU a 10-point lead, 69-59, with 4:41 remaining.
The Jayhawks shot a mediocre 56 percent (10-for-18) from the free throw line on Saturday night, but when it mattered most KU was reliable. Kansas made 6-of-7 free throws in the last five minutes of the contest to depart Lexington with a 79-73 victory.
Kansas returns home for two games with the first against No. 5/5 Baylor on Wednesday, Feb. 1, at 8 p.m., on ESPN2. KU will then host Iowa State on Saturday, Feb. 4, at 1 p.m., on ESPN.
KU STARTERS (CONSECUTIVE / SEASON / CAREER STARTS)
Sr. G Frank Mason III (95 / 21 / 98)
Jr. G Devonte’ Graham (28 / 21 / 57)
Jr. G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (11 / 11 / 17)
Fr. G Josh Jackson (21 / 21 / 21)
Sr. C Landen Lucas (10 / 15 / 48)
• Kentucky now leads the all-time series with Kansas, 22-8. Kansas has won the last two meetings in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge against Kentucky (2016, 2017), and the last two meetings in Rupp Arena (2005, 2017).
• The series dates back to 1950 – a 68-39 UK win in Lexington.
• Bill Self improves to 5-4 against Kentucky, including a 5-3 mark while at Kansas. Kentucky head coach John Calipari is 3-5 against Kansas.
• These are the top-two winningest programs in NCAA Division I college basketball with Kentucky first at 2,222 wins and Kansas second at 2,205 victories.
• Kansas becomes the third team to defeat a top-five-ranked Kentucky team in Lexington. North Carolina did so during its 1968-69 Final Four season. Arkansas did so during its national title season in 1993-94.
• Kansas is the sixth team to defeat the Wildcats at Rupp Arena during the John Calipari era. Since Calipari arrived, UK is now 129-6 (.955) overall at Rupp Arena, including marks of 68-3 against nonconference foes and 17-3 against ranked teams at home. Kansas is 5-1 in true road games this season and 9-2 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse in 2016-17.
• Tonight was the third time this season that Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson both scored at least 20 points each. KU is 3-0 in those games.
• No. 4 Kentucky is the second top-five AP-ranked team Kansas has defeated this season (No. 1 Duke on Dec. 15).
• Kansas is 2-0 in the game after a loss this season.
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