The Kansas Jayhawks avoided their first four-game losing streak in over 30 years Saturday night, going to Rupp Arena and knocking off the Kentucky Wildcats 77-68.
It was the most convincing win in weeks for the Jayhawks, too; before Saturday, Kansas hadn’t led by nine points in any of the previous five games.
Kentucky got out to an early lead, taking an 11-6 advantage at the 15:19 mark of the first half to put KU in an early hole, a spot it’s been familiar with in recent outings. The Jayhawks had an answer, though, and a permanent one at that. After Kentucky extended the early lead to five points, Kansas grabbed the momentum and in just over six minutes would take over good at the 9:17 mark.
The Wildcats were able to linger throughout the game, trimming the Jayhawks’ lead to two or fewer points five times in the second half. But Kansas eventually kept Kentucky at arm’s length and pulled away, led once again by a gutsy late-game effort from junior forward Jalen Wilson.
Wilson continued his All-American caliber season with a game-high 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting in the victory, 12 of which came in the second half. Over the last four games, even with KU’s record sitting at a paltry 1-3 in that stretch, Wilson is averaging 28.3 points per game.
“I thought Jalen played like a first-team All-American down the stretch,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
He was one of four Jayhawks to reach double figures in scoring Saturday.
Sophomore forward K.J. Adams scored 17 points on 8-of-10 from the field, a seismic bounce back after he had just eight combined points over the last two games. He and backup freshman post Ernest Udeh Jr. also drew arguably the game’s most difficult assignment, matching up defensively with Kentucky’s senior center, Oscar Tshiebwe.
While Tshiebwe did lead the Wildcats with 18 points, he collected just two offensive rebounds after entering the weekend averaging more than five per game.
“I’ll be candid, we hoped to attack them in the pick and roll but we were just praying on the rebounding stuff,” Self said.
Freshman guard Gradey Dick tacked on another 13 points for Kansas, and while he was just 1-of-5 from three-point range the one make came in the clutch, extending the Jayhawks’ lead from two to five with under five minutes to play.
Senior guard Kevin McCullar picked up his second straight double-double for the Jayhawks despite rolling his ankle during the game, toughing out the injury to record 11 points and 12 rebounds. Junior guard Dajuan Harris also poured in eight points and made a pair of three pointers against the Wildcats. In the previous four games, Harris had five total points, shot 2-of-18 from the floor and was 1-of-8 from beyond the arc.
McCullar also helped with defense on Tshiebwe, and is overall effort on that ended was lauded by Self.
“He made up for others’ mistakes because he’s so smart defensively,” Self said.
Both teams shot nearly identical percentages, with Kansas hitting 49% of its shots and Kentucky checking in at 49.2%.
KU’s win also sealed a Big 12 victory in the final Big 12/SEC Challenge. It was the conference’s sixth win of the day against the SEC, although it tacked on one more with Oklahoma State blowing out Ole Miss later in the evening.
The Jayhawks will return home for their next game, a meeting on Tuesday night with the fifth-ranked Kansas State Wildcats, who took down the Florida Gators this weekend 64-50. That game is set for a 7:00 p.m. tip at Allen Fieldhouse.