Kentucky shows flashes, can't finish late in 89-84 loss to No. 1 Kansas

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Nov 15, 2023 - 09:42
Nov 16, 2023 - 09:55
Kentucky shows flashes, can't finish late in 89-84 loss to No. 1 Kansas
Kentucky shows flashes, can't finish late in 89-84 loss to No. 1 Kansas

Heading into Tuesday night's Champions Classic in Chicago, No. 17 Kentucky was a clear longshot, facing top-ranked Kansas. The Jayhawks had more size and more experience than the young, talented but shorthanded Cats.

But Kentucky battled Kansas to the furthest limit of Tuesday's game before the Jayhawks prevailed, winning 89-84.

Chicago native Antonio Reeves had 24 points for the Cats, while freshman Ransack Dillingham had 18. Sophomore Adou Thiero had career highs in the two points (16) and rebounds (13). Freshman Reed Sheppard had 13 points and four steals.

Kansas leaped out to an early 11-3 lead but Kentucky responded. The Cats scored eight straight, including six by Mitchell, to tie the game at 11-11. Kansas responded by scoring five straight before a pair of Sheppard threes gave the Cats a 17-16 advantage.

Kansas would score five in succession to lead 21-17 and the Jayhawks would lead 25-21 before Kentucky started a three-point barrage. Dillingham hit four three-pointers in succession to turn a four-point deficit into a 33-30 lead. And when Reeves hit another three, the Cats drove by six and Kansas was forced to call a timeout.

The Jayhawks slice the UK lead to 37-34 before Thiero scored six in succession to make it 43-34 with 2:25 left in the first half. That was the start of a 11-2 run that gave Kentucky a 48-36 lead with 37 seconds left in the half. UK would take a 48-41 lead into the break behind 16 first half points from Dillingham.

Kentucky would score the first five points of the second half to lead 53-41. Kansas slice it to nine, 53-44, before Reeves hit a three and a layup to give UK it's biggest lead, 58-44. But the Cats went cold, making just one of seven from the floor, just as Kansas got hot. The Jayhawks made five shots in succession, and seven of nine, going on a 16-2 race to take a 65-62 lead with 10:53 remaining.

The Cats wouldn't go away as Reeves hit a three to tie the game at 65-65 and Sheppard thumped down a pair of free throws to give UK a 67-65 lead. Kansas answered with the following five points to lead 70-67 before Sheppard thumped down another three to tie it at 70-70 with 8:36 to play.

Kentucky took a 71-70 lead on a Thiero free toss with 7:18 to play. Kansas took the lead back on a KJ Adams layup before Thiero converted a putback to make it 73-72 Cats. After a KU turnover, Reeves made a fast break layup, then added a free toss for a three point play to give UK a 76-72 advantage with 6:03 remaining.

Adams missed two free throws for Kansas and Kentucky stretched out the lead to 78-72 on a driving layup by Sheppard. Kansas slice it to 78-75 before UK got a free toss from Tre Mitchell and two from Reeves to lead 81-75. But Kansas responded with a 10-2 hurry to take a 85-83 lead with 2:04 left.

A Mitchell free toss slice the KU lead to 85-84 with 1:33 remaining but Kansas got a Tracker Dickinson basket with 1:13 to play to lead by three.

Reeves had a pair of three pointers that could have tied the game with about one minute left in the game but neither would drop. After Kentucky got a defensive stop, the Cats were unable to get a good glance at the basket and Kansas got the bounce back. The Jayhawks converted a pair of free throws with five seconds left to provide the final margin of victory.

Dickinson had 27 points and 23 rebounds to lead Kansas.

Kentucky returns to action on Friday night, hosting Stonehill at Rupp Arena. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on SEC Network Plus.

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As these early season meetings of nobility sometimes do, the intensity reached March levels. But at the finish of each half, Kentucky's execution left a little bit wanting, as Kansas escaped with a 89-84 victory.

Kentucky finished the first half 2 of 11 from the field, and it finished the game 0 for 8, failing to land the plane after some breathtaking periods of athleticism. Kansas finished the game on a 11-1 run and held Kentucky without a field goal for the final 3:12.

The Wildcats gave fans a glimpse of what they can be. And they gave head coach John Calipari a lot of tape to critique.

Antonio Reeves drove Kentucky with 24 points, but required 25 shots to get them, including a 3-for-17 night from 3-point range. For one stretch of the first half, freshman Loot Dillingham took over the game. He had 16 first-half points and made 4 of his 5 three-pointers, but scored only two points after the break.

Adou Thiero, returning to the team after sitting with a concussion, played out of his head. He had 16 points and 13 rebounds in 31 minutes.

In a physical game, Kentucky made just 9 of 21 layup attempts. It was outscored 42-24 in the paint.

But there was a lot of that was encouraging from the Wildcats. After Kansas got off to a 9-0 start, Kentucky came back to take a 17-16 lead on back-to-back 3-pointers by Reed Sheppard.

Sheppard finished 13 points but it was his wild 3-point attempt in the closing seconds that held Kentucky back from closing its late gap.

It was an off game from Kentucky freshmen DJ Wagner (4 points, 1-12 from the field) and Justin Edwards (1 point, 0-6) and Kansas got dominant play from Michigan transfer big man Tracker Dickinson. He finished with 27 points and 21 rebounds, and with three 7-footers on the bench with various injury and eligibility issues, Kentucky had little answer.

In fact, the Wildcats had only eight scholarship players available.

But for all of the mistakes and shortcomings, the team contended. They didn't back down from a major challenge on a national stage, and for 19 minutes of the game, had the lead against a more experienced team ranked No. 1 in the nation. 

It's a game that should give Kentucky something to build on, even as it awaits some rather large pieces to complete the full picture.

Kentucky returns to action on Friday night at 7 against Stonehill in Rupp Arena

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