Kansas edges Kentucky at the wire in Champions Classic thriller
Published 9:30 am Wednesday, November 15, 2023
Kentucky gave top-ranked Kansas all it could handle before the Jayhawks escaped with an 89-84 triumph in the State Farm Champions Classic Tuesday night at the United Center in Chicago.
The No. 17 Wildcats (2-1) missed their last eight shots and were outscored 11-1 in the final three minutes as Kansas (3-0) collected its third straight win over the Wildcats in the prestigious event.
“To come in this environment with this, you know, everything that goes with this, the bells and whistles, and they perform like they did, I couldn’t ask for much more other than make some free throws and a shot down the stretch and win,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
Kentucky placed four players in double figures, with three of them notching career highs.
In his return to his native Chicago, Antonio Reeves scored a team-high 24 points, while freshmen Rob Dillingham (18) and Reed Sheppard (13) established career-highs three games into the season. Adou Thiero tallied 16 points, also a career high.
Thiero returned to the starting lineup after missing the team’s previous contest against Texas A&M Commerce because of concussion protocols.
Thiero was a big factor in the opening half. He gave the Wildcats a lift with 13 points and nine rebounds during the first 20 points, but it was the play of Sheppard and Dillingham who gave Kentucky a spark after the Jayhawks scored the first nine points and opened with an 11-3 lead five minutes into the contest.
Sheppard knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers, while Dillingham put on a display of his own with four treys during an impressive spurt as Kentucky turned the early deficit into a 48-36 lead with 37 seconds remaining in the first half. Dillingham scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half.
Kentucky shot just 33 percent from the field, but connected on a dozen 3-pointers – nine in the first half – and stayed close on the glass despite a size disadvantage. Kansas edged Kentucky 45-42 in the rebounding department.
The Cats led 48-41 at the half and built a 14-point lead in the second half before the Jayhawks came storming back. Kentucky failed to finish strong after holding a six-point lead with three minutes to play.
“Our main mindset coming into this game was to go out there and just have fun,” said Thiero. “Just enjoy the game. Go out, play together as a team, fight, and just have fun playing against them. And I think we did a pretty good job of that in the first half. And then, I think that’s when the age came into everything. We started looking at each other, looking around, trying to figure everything out. And we should have just kept having fun the whole game. And it could have been a different turnout.”
Kentucky’s most heralded freshmen — Justin Edwards and D.J. Wagner — had miserable nights. Wagner was 1-for-12 from the field and scored four points. Edwards missed all six of his shots and finished with only one point.
In the opener, Duke defeated Michigan State 74-65 to improve to 2-1 on the season. Michigan State slipped to 1-2 on the year.