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Losing slide snapped: No. 9 Kansas beat Kentucky in 77-68 win at Rupp Arena

Men’s basketball

Kansas’ Jalen Wilson (10) is congratulated by coach Bill Self after the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Kentucky in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023. Kansas won 77-68. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Kansas’ Jalen Wilson (10) is congratulated by coach Bill Self after the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Kentucky in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023. Kansas won 77-68. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Lexington, Kentucky – It was tough defense and an all-out hustle that put No. 9 Kansas ahead, but three huge 3-pointers by three different Jayhawks put the game away during a 77-68 win over Kentucky Saturday at Rupp Arena.

One came from Gradey Dick after a mock pump on the wing. One came from Jalen Wilson in the corner. And the last one came from Kevin McCullar Jr. when the shot clock rang.

“They made big shots for us,” said young KU Dajuan Harris Jr. after the win. “They are great players. This is what they do.

Added Kentucky coach John Calipari after the loss: “Three, three, three; that was the game.

The victory, which came in the final edition of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, ended Kentucky’s four-game hitting streak and also ended KU’s three-game losing streak. Send the Jayhawks off to the next Big 12 game with a much-needed dose of momentum.

“We talked about it every day,” Harris said of the losing streak. “We needed this win for our confidence, but it was against Kentucky, so we really wanted to win this game.”

The fact that he came after being embarrassed by these same Wildcats at home a season ago was just a bonus. What meant the most to the Jayhawks was how they pulled off the win.

KU played loose, loose, and hard at both ends of the court, outscoring the Wildcats 34-29 and limiting one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation to four offensive boards and zero second chance points.

“This week has definitely been an emphasis,” McCullar said after posting 11 points and 11 rebounds in 34 minutes. “We knew it wasn’t just the big boys, KJ (Adams), Zuby (Ejiofor) and Ernest (Udeh) who hit Oscar (Tshiebwe) and had to rebound. They eliminated him and that allowed us to get rebounds and we took advantage of that.

Calipari said: “They were more physical than us, which surprised me.”

Kansas head coach Bill Self said the Jayhawks were hoping they could attack the Wildcats in pick-and-roll play, which worked all night. But the game plan on glass was a little different.

“We were just praying about the rebound stuff,” she said. “We did a great job rebounding defensively. It’s been a while since we bounced the ball like that.”

The Jayhawks made eight of their first 14 shot attempts and two of their first four 3-pointers. But that simply allowed them to keep up, as the Wildcats (14-7 overall, 5-3 SEC) hit nine of their first 13 shots.

However, 11 minutes into the half, KU trailed by just one point after an old three-point play by McCullar.

The Jayhawks took their first lead on an Adams bucket midway through the first half. Kentucky responded quickly with a Tshiebwe bucket to go ahead 22-21. Adams (17 points on 8-of-10 shooting in 24 minutes) added another bucket and free throw on his next possession and the Jayhawks never trailed again the rest of the night.

It definitely qualified as another slow start for the Jayhawks, and it was probably worse than it actually was given the intensity in the building, both on the court and in the stands.

But the Wildcats never got too far from the Jayhawks, and Kansas (17-4 overall, 5-3 Big 12) managed to stay alive in the game.

Back-to-back buckets by Wilson erased a 4-0 deficit. And Harris hit two 3-pointers — both on no-hesitation catch-and-shoot decisions — in the first 7 minutes of the game. The second gave the Jayhawks a 16-15 lead with 13:13 to play in the first half.

“Huge. Huge,” said Wilson, who led KU with 22 points and received praise from his team as an “All-American” and “the best player in the country” after the win. “All week we’ve been emphasizing his score. When he’s in that pick-and-roll, it’s so dangerous. When he plays like that, our attack is much better.”

Self joked after the game that Harris had to make three 3-pointers in this one. Point guard KU missed a shot, but the win more than made up for it.

“Yeah, I owe him that,” Harris joked. “I lost like three in the second half. I thought they were good, but they were long. I didn’t have legs. But I’ll fix it.”

The Jayhawks twice led by nine in the first half, on a field goal and one by McCullar after he recorded his eighth rebound of the first half with 2:31 to play and again on a lob by Harris to Ernest Udeh Jr. , who played key minutes with Adams on the bench with foul problems.

KU led 41-34 at halftime and then opened the second half with a burst of energy, scoring easy buckets off crisp, quick passes that led to uncontested shots on the rim.

But the Wildcats also played to their size advantage. Back-to-back buckets from Tshiebwe narrowed KU’s lead to four (47-43) and inspired Self to call timeout.

KU answered with field goals from Wilson and Adams on the next two possessions, but then hit a bit of a wall with three straight empty trips. This allowed the Wildcats to narrow the lead to one (51-50) on a Cason Wallace triple, but the Jayhawks answered the 5-0 Kentucky lead with a 5-0 run of their own.

Wilson’s three off the top of the key calmed the crowd, and Dick hit an easy bucket on the rim in transition to put Kansas back up by six.

Throughout the second half, the energy in the building reached a frantic sensation whenever the Wildcats trimmed the Kansas lead to four. And each time, with the buzz building around them, the Jayhawks struck back to maintain control and calm the crowd.

Kentucky at one point down the stretch cut KU’s lead to one possession on five straight trips on the floor, but the Jayhawks dodged comeback attempts each time to walk away with a big win.

KU now leads Kentucky by seven games (2,374 to 2,367) in all-time wins for first place in all of college basketball. That means as much to these players as it does to KU’s fan base.

“We’re not the biggest team, we don’t have a lot of depth and there are some things we don’t do great,” said Self. “But our kids compete and fight. There’s just a lot of pride with them. If you can get all five starters to play well on the same night, you have a chance and that’s what happened to us.

Afterwards, Kansas heads home Tuesday for a rematch with No. 5 Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas 77, Kentucky 68


Photo Gallery: Kansas basketball at Kentucky


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Written by Matt Tait

A native of Colorado, Matt moved to Lawrence in 1988 and has been in town ever since. He attended Pinckney Elementary School for two years, West Junior High for three and graduated from Lawrence High in 1996. Matt then attended the University of Kansas and graduated in 2000 with a BA in Journalism. After covering KU sports for University Daily Kansan and Rivals.com, Matt joined World Company in 2001 and began covering high school sports in the area. In 2007, he joined Journal-World’s staff, first as high school sports editor and then as KU’s football joke writer and editor of KUsports.com. In 2016, Matt became KU’s men’s basketball beat writer, and in 2018, he was promoted to sports editor. Throughout his career, Matt has won numerous local and national awards from both the Associated Press Sports Editors and the Kansas Press Association. In 2021, he was named Kansas Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Matt lives in Lawrence with his wife, Allison, and two daughters, Kate and Molly. When he’s not playing KU sports, he enjoys spending his time playing basketball and golf, listening to and writing music, and traveling the world with friends and family.

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