At the buzzer: No. 9 Kansas defeats Kentucky mens basketball 77-68


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats guard Sahvir Wheeler (2) drives the ball during the Kentucky vs. No. 9 Kansas mens basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Kentucky mens basketball was defeated 77-68 by No. 9 Kansas inside Rupp Arena on Saturday.

The Wildcats entered the matchup on the back of a four-game winning streak, which tied the largest streak of the season. Kentucky’s most recent win came on the road, outlasting the Vanderbilt Commodores 69-53 inside Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee.

The matchup against Kansas marked the first time Kentucky had played a ranked opponent since it stunned then No. 5 Tennessee in Knoxville on on Jan. 14. The win over Tennessee also marked the first ranked win Kentucky had earned all season after starting the season 0-3 against top 25 opponents.

The game against Kansas was also significant for other reasons, with it taking place in the final year of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

Kansas Jayhawks head coach Bill Self reacts to a call during the Kentucky vs. No. 9 Kansas mens basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

Kentucky entered the game 8-2 all-time over Kansas with several significant victories, though it’s unlikely any were more significant to fans in attendance than the 67-59 win in the 2012 NCAA Tournament Championship that saw head coach John Calipari win his first and only national title at Kentucky.

More recently, the Wildcats throttled the Jayhawks 80-62 inside Allen Fieldhouse one season prior. Unfortunately for Kentucky fans, that win marked an apparent peak for the team that season, with the Cats going on to be stunned in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against No. 15 Saint Peter’s while KU went on to win the national championship.

Now looking to earn one of the biggest wins of the season, Kentucky started the night with the lineup of Cason Wallace, CJ Fredrick, Oscar Tshiebwe, Chris Livingston and Jacob Toppin, who would go against Kansas’ starting five, which consisted of Dajuan Harris, Gradey Dick, Kevin McCullar, Jalen Wilson and KJ Adams Jr.

The Wildcats won the opening tipoff and were rewarded for their efforts as Toppin recorded a mid-range shot for the first basket of the game.

Kentucky pushed ahead to a 9-4 lead before the first timeout, with the Cats bringing out McDonald’s All-American Reed Sheppard and five-star prospect Robert Dillingham, two commits for next season, onto the court during the break.

Despite taking an early deficit and entering the game on a three-game losing streak, the Jayhawks would soon tie the game with the first 3-pointer of the night just over five minutes into the game.

Kentucky refused to go away though, entering the second timeout, which took place with just over 11 minutes left in the half, with a 20-18 lead, with 18 points in the paint as opposed to KU’s eight.

The Jayhawks would retake the lead by the next timeout, which took place with just under eight minutes left in the half, mostly due to Kentucky being 0-3 from beyond the arc. Both teams were shooting 59% from the field by the time of the break, but KU’s two deep balls saw the Jayhawks lead 24-22.

The Jayhawks would inch further ahead by the next timeout, with just under four minutes left in the quarter, taking advantage of UK being 3-8 from the free-throw line to lead by five points.

Kansas ultimately took a seven-point lead into the halftime break. The Wildcats shot 56% from the field in the first half — as opposed to Kansas’ 49% — but went 0-6 from beyond the arc and 4-11 from the free-throw line, leading to the deficit.

Kentucky Wildcats guard CJ Fredrick (1) fights for a jump ball during the Kentucky vs. No. 9 Kansas mens basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

Livingston and Toppin both finished the half with eight points, just short of double-digits, which made KU’s Wilson the leading scorer of the half with 10 points to his name.

Kansas was able to utilize the pick-and-roll to great success with Adams Jr. and Ernes Udeh Jr., both of whom were frequently on the receiving end, combining for 11 points. The move saw the Jayhawks skyrocket up to 24 points in the paint, just two points short of Kentucky, despite the 10-point difference between the two teams earlier in the half.

Coming out of the break, Kansas scored first in the second half, but Wallace sent Rupp Arena into a frenzy when he hit the first 3-pointer of the night for Kentucky.

Wallace would once again send the arena into a frenzy with just under 12 minutes to play when he drained another 3-pointer to get the Cats back within one point with the score at 51-50. Unfortunately for Kentucky, the Jayhawks scored a quick five to extend the lead back to six points.

Kentucky continued to fight to stay in the game but time and time again the Jayhawks would storm back ahead. This pattern continued well into the second half with Kentucky finding itself down 70-64 with under four minutes left play.

Unfortunately for the Cats, the halftime deficit of seven points was ultimately too much to overcome as the Cats would be defeated 77-68.

Despite the loss, four Wildcats finished the night with double-digit point totals, with Tshiebwe leading all Cats with 18, followed by Toppin and Wallace with 14 each and Antonio Reeves with 10.

For Kansas, Wilson led all scorers with 22 points on the night, while three other Jayhawks finished with double-digit point totals as well.

The Wildcats will look to return to winning form on Tuesday, Jan. 31, in Oxford, Mississippi, as they take on the Ole Miss Rebels. Tipoff against Ole Miss is scheduled for 9 p.m. EST and will air live on ESPN.