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No. 9 Kansas is hoping to stop the bleeding in the marquee tilt at Kentucky

Bill Self is a basketball coach by trade, but in discussing Kansas’ three-game losing streak following Monday night’s 75-69 loss to Baylor, he dropped a wrestling analogy.

“When you’re at the top and you can get drive time, it takes twice as much energy if you’re the bottom man in wrestling… basketball is exactly like that, too,” Self said. “When you’re behind, it takes more energy, everything is amplified, it takes more effort.

“And when you’re playing the protagonist, obviously you’re looser. It’s not all life and death.”

Self and the No. 1 Jayhawks 9 must try to end their lurch in their SEC/Big 12 Challenge game against surging Kentucky Saturday night in Lexington, Ky.

The Wildcats (14-6) were in trouble just a couple of weeks ago before snapping off a four-game winning streak.

The latest was a 69-53 decision Tuesday night in the Vanderbilt, the Wildcats’ 14th straight victory against their SEC rivals. Antonio Reeves scored 16 points, giving the Illinois State transfer 68 during the streak.

Reeves led the Missouri Valley Conference in scoring last year with 20.1 ppg, but Kentucky coach John Calipari said Reeves’ recent contributions go beyond points.

“He was good, very confident,” said Calipari. “Playing better defense. Bouncing balls. Shuffle. And he’s not just worried about offense. He’s worried about the game.”

Reeves is currently averaging 12.9 points per game, second on the team behind Oscar Tshiebwe’s 16.6. Tshiebwe is also grabbing 13.9 rebounds, putting him on track to lead Division I in rebounding for the second straight season.

And Tshiebwe has been racking up the charts lately, averaging 15.8 in his last five games, including 24 as part of a 37-point effort against Georgia on Jan. 17. he’s been held in the rebounding single digits.

Self and Kansas (16-4) have first-hand knowledge of how difficult it is for Tshiebwe to stop low. He had 17 points and 14 rebounds last January as the Wildcats beat the Jayhawks 80-62 in Lawrence, arguably Kentucky’s best performance of the season.

And this Kansas team is not as equipped to handle Tshiebwe as it was last year. During his recent slide, the Jayhawks’ opponents controlled the lane. Baylor grabbed 17 offensive boards Monday night as TCU earned a 36-30 lead on the glass on Jan. 21 in an 83-60 loss at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

However, the law of averages suggests the Jayhawks will be back in the win column sooner rather than later. Jalen Wilson’s game is one reason why. He’s averaging 30.3 ppg over his last three games, the most by any Kansas player since Andrew Wiggins pumped out 31 ppg in a similar period nine seasons ago.

“We just have to focus on what’s next,” Wilson said.

Kentucky owns a 24-10 all-time series lead, even though the Jayhawks won four of five before last year.

–Field-level supports

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