The Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Kansas Jayhawks, 80-62, in the Big 12-SEC Challenge at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas on Saturday night.
It was billed as a battle of bluebloods, as No. 5 Kansas (17-3, 6-1 in the Big 12) and No. 12 Kentucky (16-4, 6-2 in SEC) are two of the programs Additionally, the programs are linked by the game’s history, as Adolph Rupp, Kentucky’s most recognizable coach, played for “Phog” Allen of Kansas, who in turn played for the game’s creator, James Naismith.
But Kentucky hurt Kansas in the first half, building a 20-point halftime lead over Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas didn’t give up the game, of course, and took the lead in the second half. But the Jayhawks never got to a point where they had a reasonable chance of making it a game.
It was a night to remember for Kansas coach Bill Self, who lost his 16th home game as Kansas head coach. It’s not a typo. Only 16 home defeats.
Christian Braun and Ochai Agbaji led the Jayhawks with 13 points apiece. Agbaji, a player many consider the candidate for Player of the Year, didn’t have that type of night, shooting 4 of 14 as Kentucky gave him special attention.
Keion Brooks Jr. led the Wildcats with 27 points. Oscar Tshiebwe added 17 points and 14 rebounds for Kentucky, which hadn’t beaten a Top 5 team on the road since 2014.
Here are our three thoughts from the game.
What was that first half like?
Kansas drops 20 points at the break? How? ‘Or’ What. Good …
Kentucky shot 61.8 percent from the floor and 50 percent from the 3-point line. Kentucky edged Kansas 23-12. Kentucky outscored Kansas 28-18 at halftime. With Kansas shooting 40% from the field and 44% from the 3-point line, the Wildcats rendered Ochai Agbaji and David McCormack inert in the first 20 minutes. McCormack has been inconsistent all season. But Agbaji with only three points in the first half? It was just…clear…unexpected.
And Kansas never recovered. Also, Kentucky didn’t drop that much. The Wildcats still shot 50% for the game.
Not the same Oscar
Oscar Tshiebwe played two seasons in West Virginia, so he was familiar with Kansas’ entry into Saturday’s game. Heck, Kansas knew him well. In his last game against Kansas in December 2020, Tshiebwe had just three points and five rebounds.
But that prior knowledge gave the Jayhawks no advantage.
I had seen a few Kentucky games earlier this season, so I knew coming in Tshiebwe was a different player. He is more confident with the ball in his hands. He still doesn’t have any significant shooting range, although he showed he was building some range with his performance on Saturday. But what he once did well at WVU, he now does with more force and confidence. He’s a better defensive player now. He’s also a better rebounder, and part of that is not having to share the paint with another post player, like he did in West Virginia with Derek Culver.
It’s almost as if Kansas forgot that in Tshiebwe’s first year in the WVU, he averaged 15.5 points and 13 rebounds in two games against the Jayhawks.
Tshiebwe’s transfer to Kentucky was positive for both this program and for Tshiebwe’s improvement as a player. He exposed all of this to Allen Fieldhouse.
David McCormack’s Question
I’m not sure Kansas head coach Bill Self can wait any longer for David McCormack to return to the player he was last season when he was the Big 12’s most improved player. he maddening inconsistency continued on Saturday, as he had three points and a rebound in 16 minutes. He can’t be dominant against, say, Kansas State (11 points, 15 rebounds) and then disappear against Kentucky or even Oklahoma (six points, four rebounds).
The thing is, Self doesn’t have many options. I see three:
First, release McCormack from the need for him to score and just tell him to bounce back (if Self hasn’t already tried that tactic). There is more than enough attack in this team to make up for it. When McCormack has 10 or more rebounds, the Jayhawks tend to win.
Second, start it but essentially limit its minutes. Maybe ask him to play only 20 minutes per game and give him maximum energy.
Third, bench him and throw Mitch Lightfoot or KJ Adams and knock McCormack off the bench (something Self has tried before).
You can’t just bench McCormack completely. Why? He is THE player who can make the difference between the Jayhawks having a good NCAA Tournament run or a great NCAA Tournament run. His inconsistency has now cornered Self in a corner from which he must find an escape.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.