CRAWFORD | Kentucky grows up a little, still comes up just short against Kansas
Kentucky grew up some, but couldn't overcome its own mistakes in a four-point loss to No. 4 Kansas in Chicago Tuesday night.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – This was a night for John Calipari’s youngest University of Kentucky basketball team yet to grow up. And on a big stage, against a big-name opponent, the young Wildcats did.
In a tense, often sloppy game, Kentucky erased an early 11-point deficit, poked ahead several times in the second half, but in the end couldn’t overcome its own mistakes in a 65-61 loss to No. 4-ranked Kansas in the Champions Classic in Chicago's United Center.
Still, it was an encouraging performance from the Wildcats. Despite 18 turnovers and a large first-half rebounding deficit, the game was in the balance till the end. After forcing a shot-clock violation with 33.6 seconds left, Kentucky got the ball trailing 61-59.
Kevin Knox led the Wildcats all night, and finished with 20 points on 8 of 13 shooting, but didn’t get the ball enough in the final minutes. He did get it on Kentucky’s ensuing possession, but missed a leaning jumper, and Kansas rebounded. Malik Newman hit a pair of free throws to put the Jayhawks up four.
Sacha Killeya-Jones scored on a put-back with eight seconds left. But two free throws from Devonte' Graham sealed it for Kansas.
"I'll give it to my team, we really fought tonight," Knox told reporters after the game. "A lot of people had us losing this game at least by 20, 30 points, but we said before the game we wasn't letting that happen. They're a veteran team, we're a real young team, and a lot of people thought they had the advantage. But tonight we fought our butts off, we played really hard in the second half. We really could have won the game, to be honest. We only lost by four points and we had eight freshmen. If we keep playing like that, later on in the year we'll be really good."
Kansas got 17 points from Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, 13 from Udoka Azibuike and 10 from Malik Newman.
Hamidou Diallo finished with 14 for Kentucky, which shot 41.8 percent but made just 3 of 13 from three-point range, including 0-6 in the second half. Kansas finished with a 20-12 edge in second-chance points and a 17-12 lead in points off turnovers. Kentucky held a 17-3 edge in bench points against a Kansas team playing with only seven scholarship players.
"Look, we have so much teaching," Calipari said. "The thought of what I have to do, and our staff, is kind of tiring to me. Like, I don't want to think about it. . . . We're a ways away to get to where we need to be. But to play in a game like this, in that environment, and have a chance to win, wow. Bunch of freshmen. Pretty good."
Bill Self, who improved to 3-4 in Champions Classic games, said the event doesn't have a downside, win or lose. No. 1 Duke edged No. 2 Michigan State in the opener.
"It was a great grind it out win for us, to play basically just six guys and be able to pull that off, I'm proud of my team," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "These games don't hurt you. Years we've lost, we've still been a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. People aren't going to hold a loss to Duke or Michigan State or Kentucky against you. It's a good event, I know TV is happy, and if you can stand to watch it, it was a good game tonight."
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