Last night, KU traveled down to Chicago to take on a young, talented Kentucky team in the Champions Classic. Kentucky’s roster featured an all-freshman starting lineup—highlighted by the scary-athletic Guard, Hamidou Diallo.
Only an hour before the game, it was announced that the Jayhawks would yet again be without their top ranked recruit, forward Billy Preston. According to a statement released by Bill
Self (via KU’s twitter account), after being involved in a single-car mishap on Saturday, Billy was to be held out of contest until the administration receives a “clearer financial picture specific to the vehicle”—since then, no further updates have been released. Without Preston, the Jayhawks were forced to play with only 7 players on full-scholarship.
Early on, the Jayhawks were able to take advantage of the Wildcats’ inexperience, getting out in transition following long misses and bad turnovers. To go along with this, Kansas also killed Kentucky on the glass, grabbing 13 offensive rebounds in the first half in the first half alone.
Calipari and the Wildcats weren’t going to go down that easy, though. Thanks to a pair of big time threes from freshman sensation Kevin Knox, Kentucky found themselves down only one point at halftime.
The story of the game throughout was Kansas’s inability to hit shots. Kentucky’s length really seemed to give the Jayhawks trouble especially when their outside shots weren’t falling either. Kansas Guards Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, and Lagerald Vick all struggled to find a rhythm, shooting a combined 27% on the game.
Where KU was able to do a lot of damage against Kentucky was down on the low block. Quite frankly, the Wildcats never really had an answer for center Udoka Azubuike, who finished with 13 points and also snagged 8 rebounds.
Kansas also found some much-needed shot-making in guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who finished with a team-high 17 points.
Defensively the Jayhawks did a lot of things right, generating a ton of turnovers (18) while holding star-freshman Hamidou Diallo to only 14 points on 3/11 shooting.
Down the stretch, with just over two minutes remaining, the Jayhawks found themselves in a tight contest in dire-need of a bucket. After a clutch follow-up offensive rebound by Lagerald Vick and a quick swing pass from Svi, the Jayhawks eventually found Malik Newman who was able hit open three to break the ice and take a 4-point lead.
Kentucky did go on to score again but were eventually put away after several clutch free throws from Graham and Newman. The Jayhawks went on to win 65-61 despite shooting a horrendous 35% as a team.
Up next, the Jayhawks will be taking on the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in Lawrence this Friday at 7PM C.T.