CRAWFORD | Kentucky's blue platoons spell doom, demoralization f - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Kentucky's blue platoons spell doom, demoralization for Kansas, 72-40

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WDRB) -- The score was bad enough. No. 1-ranked Kentucky, in its regular-season national TV debut in front of a prime-time ESPN audience, whipped the No. 5-ranked team in the nation, Kansas, 72-40 in the State Farm Champions Classic in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

But this wasn't just a blowout. It was an emotional beatdown. Kansas' starters walked back to the bench with 1:21 left in the game, heads down, and sat at the end of it.

Yes, UK stamped its superiority on college basketball by holding the nation's No. 5-ranked team to just three made baskets in the second half. But don't discount what UK did to the Jayhawks mentally. The Wildcats placed their sizeable Nike sneakers on the Kansas players' psyches, and maybe those of other teams watching.

"We bum-rushed them a little bit and every time they looked we had tanks coming over the hill," UK coach John Calipari said. "It wasn't substitutes, it was reinforcements. Here they come. It kind of gets to you."
 
It got to Kansas. UK finished the game with as many blocked shots (11) as Kansas had made baskets (11). And as the game wore on, the Jayhawks' players visibly tired of going into the lane against Kentucky's defensive dementors. They wanted no part of trying to get to the rim. By the end of this game, Kansas just wanted to go home.

Jayhawks coach Bill Self came into his postgame news conference, unscrewed the top off a bottle of water, took a sip then sat it down and shook his head.

"I was hoping it was Vodka," Self said.

When UK jumped to a double-digit first-half lead, Self started burning timeouts like a teenager burns cell phone minutes. He couldn't stop the bleeding. In the first half, he was calling them to try to stay close, and a late run did leave Kansas down just ten headed into halftime.

But in the second half, UK put on a defensive clinic. The Wildcats were too big, too athletic for Kansas to score against. And then, even open shots wouldn't fall. The Jayhawks' confidence was so battered that they made only 6 of 13 free-throws in the second half.

You won't see many stats this amazing. In the game, Kansas went 3 for 23 from point-blank range -- layups, tip-ins and dunks.

This was a new Kentucky effect. The Wildcats had been so fierce defensively around the rim, Kansas even lost confidence in open outside jumpers.

By that point, Self was calling timeouts just to encourage his players. During one of them, I swear I saw him giving out juice boxes and mini-Snickers.

This was one of those nights. Maybe Kansas was a bit overrated. But they are a team that could give most Top 10 teams in the nation a pretty good game. Against this UK group, they came unglued.

"No, we're not that good," Calipari proclaimed as he sat down for his postgame news conference. "Next question."

Well, the next question is, how good can this team be?

There's a lot of focus on the "platoons," and I suppose that's an interesting starting point because the concept is novel where players of this talent level are concerned.

But that's not the big thing about this Kentucky team, to me. In fact, it barely makes my top five.

The waves of reality that hit you with this UK team are:

1). They are led by two second-year guards who were one of the best tandems in the NCAA Tournament last season, who have been through success and discouragement, and who are among the elite backcourts in the nation. They just happen to be twins. Tuesday night, point guard Andrew Harrison was "unbelievable," in the words of Calipari, in his control of the game and the energy he brought.

2). A year ago in a game in this event, UK was shell-shocked by a more veteran and more physical Michigan State team. That's not going to happen to this season's group. They start four guys who have been through championship seasons, including third-year starters Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress, who have been through Calipari's drill twice.

3). When you think about prep All-Americans, you think about offense and points and players "getting theirs." This group plays vicious defense. Getting to the rim isn't hard. Putting the ball through before someone swats it is difficult. UK has had better individual shot-blockers than this team has. But it hasn't had this much depth of size.

4). When all is said and done, Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles are probably the most talented players on this team. And Calipari doesn't really need to lean on them. Lyles went 1-for-5 from the field.

5). Now you can talk platoons. Calipari has two units, either of which could be probably be a Top 10 team, or at least have Top 10 talent. He had only two double-figure scorers, Andrew Harrison with 10 points and Dakari Johnson with 11, and completely dismantled Kansas. It was the lowest point total for the Jayhawks in a meeting with UK since the first time the teams met, in 1950. It was the fourth-largest defeat in school history. UK now has won 21 of its last 23 games when playing as the nation's No. 1 ranked team.

"They were terrific," Self said. "Both teams were turned up early. They stayed turned up for 40 minutes and we never once never did anything that resembled a team offense. And I hope they were the primary reason why. I thought they were great. You get long athletes who can cover up for their mistakes as well as anybody I've ever seen. They were really, really impressive."

Now, of course, will come all the conjecture on whether this team can be beaten. Now will come floods of praise from everywhere. And that's a dangerous thing, and Calipari knows it.

"I've got a job to do now," he said. "We've got to keep growing and getting better. This becomes a base for us to go."

But the base camp Kentucky established Tuesday night was at a far higher altitude than other college basketball programs operate. Kansas walked away gasping for air and demoralized.

It likely won't be the last one.

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