Kansas putting 3-game winning streak vs. Kentucky on the line Saturday at Rupp Arena
After falling in back-to-back games against Kentucky, first in the 2012 national championship game and then two years later, 72-40 in the Champions Classic in Chicago, Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self has won three straight over John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats.
Talk about holding a grudge.
Self and the 9th-ranked Jayhawks will put that streak — and so much more — on the line at 5 p.m. Saturday, when Kansas and Kentucky hook up in the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge in Lexington, Kentucky.
Self is 2-0 against Calipari in this particular event. And he avenged that 2014 Champions Classic loss to the Wildcats with a 65-61 Champions Classic win in 2017, too.
Self will be the first to tell you that the current 3-game winning streak the Jayhawks have built against the Wildcats is a credit to equal parts preparation, guys making plays and a bit of luck. He also wouldn’t read too much into the streak nor would he think or say that it carries one ounce of weight in this week’s meeting at Rupp Arena.
Nonetheless, it’s still pretty interesting.
For years, Calipari and Kentucky have been the gold standard in college basketball, competing on a somewhat rotating basis with KU and Duke for the head chair at the table reserved for blue bloods.
The fact that Self has had Calipari’s number the last three times they’ve met both means nothing and also says a lot because when you’re talking about the two winningest programs in the history of college basketball, absolutely every possible angle one can think of puts bragging rights on the line.
Self and the Jayhawks currently have them. The Wildcats, who enter this one at 14-3 overall and ranked No. 8 in the nation, will be trying to get them back while also trying to avenge a home loss with ESPN’s College GameDay in town, no less.
That sets the stage for a wild weekend and should make for some intense and competitive basketball. Kansas and Kentucky will be facing each other for the fifth consecutive season and that number likely will grow to six in a row with the Wildcats expected to return to Allen Fieldhouse next season for another round of Big 12/SEC Challenge fun.
With setting the stage in mind, let’s take a quick look back at those last three KU-UK games and see just how Kansas managed to win each one.
It should be noted here that Kentucky leads the all-time series, 22-9, but that the teams have split the last 12 meetings, with four separate 3-game winning streaks.
• Kentucky won 3 in a row from 1990-1999
• Kansas won 3 in a row from 2005-07
• Kentucky won 3 in a row from 2011-14
• Kansas won 3 in a row from 2016-17
All right. Now for the quick trip down Memory Lane...
Win No. 1
Jan. 30, 2016, Allen Fieldhouse
Kansas 90, Kentucky 84 (OT)
The former KU guard dropped 33 points in 44 wild and crazy minutes at Allen Fieldhouse in the first meeting in KU’s home venue between the two teams in a decade.
Selden out-dueled UK’s Tyler Ulis (26 points) in an important second half that saw Kansas hit Kentucky with a 14-7 run midway through that turned an eight-point Wildcat lead into a tooth-and-nail scrap to the finish.
After nearly surrendering 50 points to the Wildcats in the first half and trailing 46-40 at the break, KU coach Bill Self went with a triangle-and-two defense early in the second half that slowed down UK’s offensive attack and gave the Jayhawks momentum to mount the comeback.
Despite being outshot by the Wildcats, 54-46 from the floor, Kansas won the battle behind the arc, knocking in 47 percent of its 3-point attempts compared to just 22 percent for the Wildcats. Selden hit 3-of-5 from 3-point range to help Kansas grab the victory.
“I love the place. I love the campus. If you’re a college student and you’re in the Midwest, really anywhere, this is a college campus, a college life, a student life. And the pride they take in this basketball program; Bill’s taken it to another level, but it’s always been here.”
— John Calipari on returning to Allen Fieldhouse, where he began his coaching career under Ted Owens and Larry Brown from 1982-85.
Win No. 2
Jan. 28, 2017, Rupp Arena, Lexington, Kentucky
Kansas 79, Kentucky 73
Led by some of the baddest dudes to ever wear a Kansas uniform, the shorthanded, undersized Jayhawks walked into Rupp on a day very similar to the one they’ll face this weekend and walked out with a tough-as-nails victory in a Top 5 battle between No. 2 Kansas and No. 4 Kentucky.
Frank Mason III, Svi Mykhailiuk, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson led the way for Kansas in an all-out battle with Wildcats named De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo and Malik Monk, among others.
After falling behind 29-17 in a fast-paced fury to open the game, KU coach Bill Self utilized a 2-3 zone to slow down the game and help Kansas crawl back into it.
Kansas cut the UK lead to just 5 (32-27) by halftime and Josh Jackson opened the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Jayhawks on the path to taking control.
Kansas built a lead of as many as 10 in the second half — 69-59 — but needed some clutch plays down the stretch to survive, including a couple of big tip-ins by Jackson and Landen Lucas, who used his head and his heart, not to mention five fouls, to deliver 27 strong minutes against Adebayo.
This game might also be remembered — but probably not — as the day the Wildcats’ cheesed up their attempt to break a Guiness World Record for loudest indoor crowd in history.
They got the mark, just before halftime, when 24,418 screaming fans reached a verified level of 126.4 decibels. UK officials passed out ear plugs to every fan as they entered the arena.
Kansas swiped 9 steals — 6 different players had at least 1 steal — and forced Kentucky in 17 turnovers in their own gym while the Jayhawks turned it over just 12 times themselves, including just 4 give-aways in the entire second half.
“If you go to an AAU tournament, it’s kind of like the showcase game; if you win or lose it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t affect the bracket. And that’s kind of what I thought about this game. Of course, I know it means a lot to the fans of both schools and there’s a lot of tradition on the line.”
— Bill Self on playing the Wildcats in late January in the middle of the Big 12 Conference season
Win No. 3
Nov. 14, 2017, United Center, Chicago, Illinois
Kansas 65, Kentucky 61
A Champions Classic clash that featured mostly sloppy play and poor shooting by both teams was won in the final minutes when KU junior Malik Newman hit a clutch shot with 2:10 to play that gave Kansas a 4-point lead and all but iced the game.
Newman, who shot 4-of-14 from the floor for the night, was wide open before pulling the trigger and did not hesitate to go up with it when the opportunity presented itself.
Despite a sub-par shooting line of his own, KU senior Devonte’ Graham (3-of-14) played 39 minutes, handled the ball almost the entire time Kansas was on offense and took the brunt of Kentucky’s best shots over and over as the slug fest played out.
Just before tip-off Kansas learned it would be without freshman forward Billy Preston, who was involved in an off-the-court incident that kept him out of action during his entire time with the program. As a result, Kansas played just seven players — 6 if you take into account that Mitch Lightfoot played just 6 minutes — and out-shined the Wildcats on one of college basketball’s brightest stages.
The victory marked KU’s first win over Kentucky in the Champions Classic showcase. The win also moved Self into a tie with Roy Williams for second place on KU’s all-time win list behind Phog Allen.
Self has since passed Williams and sits 127 wins away from tying Phog for the most wins by a KU coach.
Kansas shot just 35.3 percent from the floor for the game, a poor number to be sure, and something the Wildcats had a whole heck of a lot to do with. Kentucky blocked 10 shots in this one but also turned it over 18 times, compared to just 11 give-aways by Kansas.
“A win is a win, so you're excited about any win. But beating Kentucky is definitely more for the fans and theres a little bit more excitement to it and bragging rights, of course.”
— Then-KU senior Devonte’ Graham after helping lead Kansas to victory