Kansas keeps composure down the stretch, hands UK second straight loss


Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari reacts against the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday January 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Michael Reaves | Staff

Chris Angolia

In what was the loudest indoor crowd in the Guinness World Record book, Bill Self’s No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks were unfazed as they came in to Rupp Arena and left with a 79-73 victory handing No. 4 UK its second straight loss and its fourth loss overall this season.

Despite UK and Kansas being two of the top offenses in the nation, things were not exactly smooth for either team offensively in the early going. Following an early trading of buckets by the two teams, the Cats started to get things going offensively, more specifically Malik Monk, who continued to perform in primetime.

Monk hit his first five shots in route to a 12-point first half that helped the Cats build a decent size lead midway through the first half, but Monk was not alone. Derek Willis was a perfect 2-2 from deep in the first and provided offense off the bench that the Cats lacked Tuesday against Tennessee.

As UK’s offense was able to get going, Kansas’ only true big-man Landen Lucas picked up his second foul, and the Jayhawks switched to zone. While the fouls on Lucas were a big deal, the bigger story may have been the frustration that Kansas’ zone provided for UK.

In the final five minutes of the first half, the Cats saw a 10-point lead dwindle down to five at the half, but it was the sloppy play of UK that prevented it from taking near total control of the game. The way that the Jayhawks played in the first half left the door open for the Cats, but they could not capitalize which paved the way for KU to open the second half in striking distance.

A team like Kansas with veteran guards and a stud freshman is almost guaranteed to put it together no matter the situation, and that is what the Jayhawks did right out of the gate to start the second half.

Josh Jackson, KU’s star freshman came roaring out of the gate in the second half, giving the Jayhawks the lead with a pair of threes. Not only was it Jackson who got going, but the backcourt duo of Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham hit that veteran gear and ramped up their play on both ends of the floor.

The two savvy veteran guards were clearly unbothered by the chaos that was Rupp Arena and against a young duo like UK’s, Mason III and Graham constantly kept their team composed which prevented the typical second half UK offensive outburst. 

That outburst that fans have been accustomed to seeing was absent Saturday night largely in-part to the composure of both Mason and Graham that kept Kansas within themselves the entire second half.

Kansas’ ability to remain calm was ultimately the biggest difference in a game that UK had the opportunity to grab hold of, but a little crack in the door was all the veteran-led Jayhawks needed Saturday.