Rivalry renewed: Kentucky travels to Lawrence for blue blood battle with Kansas


Kentucky Wildcats guard Sahvir Wheeler (2) calls out to his team during the UK vs. Mississippi State basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 82-74. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Hunter Shelton

The tough road tests keep on rolling in for Kentucky basketball.

Just one week removed from the Wildcats’ 80-71 defeat to the now No. 1 Auburn Tigers, Kentucky will head west to Lawrence, Kansas, for a date with the No. 5 Kansas Jayhawks.

Led by Bill Self, who is in his 19th year as head coach of the Jayhawks, Kansas will welcome Kentucky to Allen Fieldhouse as a part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

As per usual, Self and his staff have a highly-touted roster that nears the top of the Big 12 and the country. Coming into Saturday’s matchup, the Jayhawks vaunt a 17-2 (6-1 Big 12) record headlined by wins over Iowa State and Texas Tech.

Ochai Agbaji paves the way for KU, averaging a league-best 20.4 points per game. Agbaji’s name has been floating amongst the 2022 NBA draft boards, often seen in first round projections. The senior guard will play Kentucky fresh off of a career high 37-point performance against Texas Tech on Monday.

Right behind Agbaji is backcourt mate Christian Braun, who tallies 15.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists a night.

In the paint, Kansas is paced by senior forward David McCormack, who has appeared in 120 games over his Jayhawk career. Through 18 games this season, McCormack averages 8.8 points and a team-best 6.8 rebounds a contest.

Sophomore Jalen Wilson assists with the dirty work down low, notching 8.9 points and 6.5 boards per game.

The Wildcats will counter with Oscar Tshiebwe. Leading the SEC in rebounding, the West Virginia transfer will hold a distinct advantage in the post.

If healthy, the duo of Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington will cause its own set of problems to attempt to offset Ogbaji, while sharpshooter Kellan Grady has shown once he gets hot, his 3-point percentages can rival anyone in the nation.

Kansas and Kentucky post similar numbers, creating an alluring matchup that will witness two of college basketball’s blue bloods doing battle in a historic venue.

Both teams average over 80 points scored while hovering around the 65-point mark in points allowed. Shooting percentages stand nearly identical at just below 50%, while assist and block numbers lie next to each other.

The Wildcats maintain an advantage on the glass, thanks to the presence of Tshiebwe. KU will counter with a better 3-point shooting percentage, but otherwise, the statistics point towards the weekend matchup being a total crapshoot.

Kansas will carry one crucial advantage on Saturday, however.

Also known as “The Phog” after legendary former KU head coach Dr. Forrest C. “Phog” Allen, Allen Fieldhouse is considered one of the Mecca’s of college basketball

Over 16,000 spectators consistently create one of the best home-court advantages in the nation. Since Self has taken over as head coach in Lawrence, the Jayhawks have allowed just 13 home losses.

Saturday will mark the first time the two teams have played at Kansas since 2016, when the Jayhawks slid by the Wildcats 90-84 in overtime. The teams have played four more times since 2016, seeing KU best the Cats in three of the four matchups.

The average margin of victory in the past five games is a mere 5.4 points. Kentucky leads the all-time series against Kansas, 23-10.

Following the gut-wrenching loss to Auburn, Kentucky is in search of yet-another statement victory to solidify its spot in the top half of the rankings.

Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. E.S.T. on Jan. 29, featuring two juggernauts in the marquee matchup of the weekend.