Cats can’t stop Kansas down the stretch
Published 11:59 am Monday, January 30, 2023
Kentucky simply couldn’t stop Kansas when it mattered the most.
The Wildcats gave the defending national champions all they could handle before the No. 9 Jayhawks pulled away in the final five minutes and escaped with a 77-68 win Saturday night. The loss snapped Kentucky’s modest four-game winning streak, while Kansas ended a rare three-game slide in the final Big 12-SEC Challenge between the two Power 5 conferences.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Give them credit. They were physical; their ball screens were really physical and knocked us off point a few times. They were coming right at us that way, and they deserved to win the game because they made (four) threes down the stretch. You’ve got to make those kind of plays and they made them.”
Kansas (17-4) never trailed in the second half and made four of its 3-pointers in the last five minutes to fend off Kentucky’s second attempt of a signature victory over a ranked opponent this season. The Wildcats fell to 14-7 on the year and have little room for error to solidify a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
While Kansas couldn’t miss, especially from long range in the closing minutes, Kentucky made just one of its last seven shots from the field and failed to score in the final 2:11.
“We took a tough loss,” Kentucky senior Jacob Toppin said. “We made a few mistakes down the stretch that cost us the game, but we’re still together, and we’re not going to separate now. We’ve been through worse.”
Kansas coach Bill Self compared his team’s narrow victory to Kentucky’s 63-56 win at No. 4 Tennessee on Jan. 14. The veteran coach was pleased with his team’s ability to avenge last year’s setback to the Wildcats. In what was one of Kentucky’s best performances last season, the Wildcats easily disposed of the Jayhawks 80-62 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas.
And it was the four three-pointers clutch three-pointers late in the second half that made the difference for Self’s squad.
“With them making threes like that, it’s really hard to beat a team,” Kentucky senior guard Antonio Reeves said. “We’ve just got to figure out how we need to guard against those type of things. (The other team) making threes and us making twos is always troubling.”
In addition to making clutch shots after the Wildcats closed the margin to two points four times late in the second half, the Jayhawks out-rebounded the hosts 34-29 but did most of the damage on the defensive end of the court. The Wildcats managed just two offensive rebounds — both by Oscar Tshiebwe — and zero second-chance opportunitie
“We hadn’t rebounded the ball like that in a while,” Self said., “We did do a great job on the glass.”
Calipari was surprised by his team’s lack of offensive rebounding against the Jayhawks despite a height advantage in the post.
“No second-chance points? You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said. “I’ve got to watch the tape and see why did that happen.”
Oscar Tshiebwe led Kentucky with 18 points and just missed a double-double with nine rebounds, while Toppin and Cason Wallace added 14 points each. Antonio Reeves chipped in with 10 despite missing all three of his field goal attempts from long range.
Overall, Kentucky made just two threes — both by Wallace in the second half — on 13 attempts from the field, but still managed to shoot 49 percent from the field.
“We had our chances to win the game,” Calipari said. “I thought we were going to win the game. We had it right there…we fought. They’re a Top 10 team, and we’re trying to re-establish who we are. I was hoping we could get this, but the kids the fought and tried.”