By LARRY VAUGHT
The bright lights and attention from ESPN GameDay were here and the Rupp Arena crowd was loud from the start. But Kansas refused to wilt even after Kentucky took a 12-point lead in the first half and beat the Wildcats 79-73.
Not only was it UK’s second home-court loss this season, but it was also Kentucky’s second straight loss after the Cats fell at Knoxville Tuesday. Kentucky coach John Calipari has not lost consecutive games but eight times during his tenure at UK.
“They stink. How about that. One was on the road and one is home. We don’t normally lose here, but Kansas, you got to give them credit, they came in here and all the plays they had to make in the second half, even when we made a run to make it close again, they were effort plays, too,” Calipari said.
“They were tip-ins, they were they were grabs, they were second and third shots. They were a drive to the basket and a physical tough and-one layup. That’s what they did to beat us. And I come back to, our defensive playing and our toughness. That’s what they did to us. A young team, you got to learn to fight. That’s what we’re going to have to learn to do. ”
Kentucky didn’t fight nearly enough the second half. The Cats seemed to come unglued and lost their poise. Kansas got 21 points off 17 UK turnovers. The Jayhawks shot 58 percent from the field in the second half and 55 percent from 3-point range.
Malik Monk had 10 early points, but got only two field goals the final 28 minutes even though he did finish with 18 points.
“They did a good job of shading toward him, whether it was the zone or they — the triangle and two, they put a man on him, and then again, like I told the staff after, we can’t go eight minutes without him shooting the ball. Seven minutes. We have an enough stuff in our offense whether it’s man or zone, for him to get shots off,” Calipari said.
:I think that the shot he took on the baseline, which was a tough play at that time, was based on the fact that he hadn’t gotten a shot in a while. But we’ll work on that and, like I said, we come back to, they shot 60 percent in the first half — or second half. 60. Okay, we struggled with what we were doing, they shot 60 percent. You cannot win with a team shooting 60 percent. You can’t score enough. ”
Kansas coach Bill Self joked during the 2014-15 season that he needed a drink before his postgame press conference after UK routed his team in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis.
” I thought this could get ugly really fast. I thought it was already ugly. I don’t think they shot the ball unbelievably well by any stretch early, but we didn’t shoot it at all and we played tight and they had all the momentum,” Self said.
“So I don’t know what the biggest deficit was. Was it 12? The key part of the game for us was the last five minutes to get it to five at halftime. To play that poorly and go 0-for-8 (from 3-point range), I think we were like 3-of-6 from the free-throw line and got it to five. Then Josh’s two 3s to start the second half took the lid off and we were pretty good after that.”
Freshman Josh Jackson, who played in the Marshall County Hoop Fest and McCracken County Mustang Madness the last two years, had 20 points and 10 rebounds. But he thought switching to a zone defense when UK had the 12-point lead changed the game.
“It kind of slowed the game up, gave us a chance to catch our breath on the defensive end. I think it was pretty good. Hopefully we don’t have to do that moving forward. We take pride in playing man on man and guarding our man, but whatever helps us get the win were willing to do,” Jackson said.
Kentucky sophomore Isaiah Briscoe was on the bench with two fouls when Kansas went to the zone and cut UK’s lead to five points at halftime. Calipari thought that made a big difference.
“They had a run in the second half and we just weren’t able to get back,” Briscoe said. “We’re just not there yet. We have a team full of freshman and sophomores. Today Kansas’ experience showed. They were down and kept fighting. I give them credit, but a lot of that is on us. We were prepared for it (the zone). It forces us to pass the ball.”