Inexperience spurns UK in loss to Kansas

Kansas Jayhawks guard Devonte’ Graham dribbles up court against Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk on Saturday January 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Michael Reaves | Staff

Chris Angolia

Leading up to UK’s matchup with No. 2 Kansas, it was no secret that the Jayhawks would have the upper-hand as far as experience went, but in the Cats’ 79-73 loss Saturday night, that lack of experience was magnified.

The Jayhawks duo of Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham have played a combined 216 games throughout their tenure in Lawrence, and have appeared in numerous games in raucous road environments.

In comparison to Mason and Graham, UK’s freshmen duo of De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk have only played a combined 42 games (21 each), with few coming on as big of a stage as Saturday night. While Fox and Monk are the two to be compared to KU’s backcourt, it is the entire UK team that has looked inexperienced at times and no more so than down the stretch on Saturday.

“I thought our experience to answer your question,” KU coach Bill Self said about winning in Rupp Arena. “I thought those guys (Mason, Graham and Josh Jackson) played with pretty good poise down the stretch. Really good.”

The play of the Jayhawks down the stretch was what stood out on Saturday, and not because anything extraordinary happened.

As the Cats were trying to get back into a rhythm and cut into KU’s deficit, turnovers were at a premium and unfortunately for UK, the Jayhawks are the tenth-best team in the nation in terms of offensive turnover percentage. With Mason and Graham at the helm, Kansas committed just four second half turnovers and in a hostile road environment, those numbers will help a team beat anybody.

“(My experience) helped us to come in here and get a win,” Mason said after the game. “UK is a great team and a great program with great tradition. Just for all the guys to come out here and experience that will help us.”

It is teams like Kansas that have experienced rosters, and backcourts in particular that will do well come March, and as it stands right now, UK lacks that experience. Even with the outrageous talent that the Cats’ roster has, experience is something that takes time. For UK to be successful down the stretch in games and over the course of the season, Fox, Monk and the rest of the Cats are going to need to take strides when it comes to remaining composed.

There is a reason that Mason and Graham were able to lead their team to a big win in one of the most hostile environments you will see all season, and it all goes back to experience.