The Kansas Jayhawks traveled to Chicago to take on the Kentucky Wildcats in one of the early season primetime matchups. It was the headline game in the Champions Classic that also featured Duke and Michigan State in the earlier game. On a night featuring the two winningest programs in college basketball history, it was the Jayhawks who won this matchup, 89-84. It was a back-and-forth battle that came down to the final minute and an exciting game from start to finish.
The Jayhawks started the game on a 9-0 run, their largest lead of the game, before the Wildcats stormed back as the half moved along. Kentucky freshman Rob Dillingham made four consecutive three-pointers and senior Antonio Reeves made another to give the Wildcats a 36-30 lead with 4:41 left in the first half. The Wildcats led by as many as 11 points before Kansas big man Hunter Dickinson hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to cut Kentucky’s halftime lead to 48-41.
The break didn’t slow down the Wildcats. With 16:22 left in the game, Kentucky took a 58-44 lead, but that would be their largest lead. Kansas started clawing their way back into the game on the backs of their team leaders; Dickinson, Dajuan Harris Jr, Kevin McCullar Jr, and KJ Adams all stepped up to help the Jayhawks. KU took their first lead of the second half with 9:35 remaining thanks to two free throws from Dickinson. The game went back and forth from there, with both teams exchanging blows until the final two minutes of the game when Kansas took the lead for good. Once again, it was two Dickinson free throws that gave the Jayhawks the lead, this time for good. Freshman Jamari McDowell, who only played four minutes in the game, came up with a clutch rebound and two free throws in the final seconds of the game to seal the deal for Kansas.
It was a historic night on multiple fronts for the Jayhawks. McCullar finished the game with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. It was his first triple-double as a Jayhawk and it was only the third triple-double in the history of the Kansas basketball program. It was the first triple-double in program history where a player had 10 assists as part of the equation. An impressive feat indeed for the super-senior.
Harris had himself a night as well. He finished with a career-high 23 points on 5-6 shooting from behind the arc. His only miss was on an off-balance shot he took on an inbounds pass with 2 seconds left on the shot clock. This performance came after the first two games in which it seemed like Harris did not want to be involved in scoring points. He didn’t take a shot in the first game against North Carolina Central and took less than a handful of shots in the second game against Manhattan where he finished the game with two points. The offensive explosion was needed, and timely, as it helped the Jayhawks climb back into the game throughout the second half. He also added seven assists.
And then there was Dickinson. The new guy on campus came into this game averaging 19.5 points and 8 rebounds in the first two games. Playing against a Kentucky team that was without their big men and starting a four-guard lineup, Dickinson absolutely ate up the Wildcats on the glass and offensively in the paint. He finished the game with 27 points and a career-high 21 rebounds. The last time a Jayhawk had a double-double that featured 25 points and 20 rebounds was in 2011 by former KU power forward Thomas Robinson. It was Dickinson’s first 20-20 game.
At this point, Kansas head coach Bill Self has no excuse: he needs to run the offense through Dickinson. We’ve seen what Dickinson can do against a high-profile school like Kentucky, albeit, a smaller lineup. There aren’t many teams that have a defensive player who will be able to lock down Dickinson. When teams start double-teaming Dickinson, he’ll be able to find an open Harris or McCullar for three or a streaking Adams for an alley-oop. The Jayhawks have such an array of weapons, but Dickinson needs to be the focal point.
Kansas put a stronghold on their No. 1 national ranking with the win, but now they will look ahead to their trip to Hawaii next week where they will play in the Maui Invitational. KU will open the tournament on Monday night at 8:00 CT against Chaminade, the host team. If the Jayhawks win they will face the winner of UCLA vs Marquette on Tuesday, November 21st. UCLA is currently just outside of the Top 25 while Marquette is ranked 4th. The games will be played in Honolulu this year due to fires that occurred in Maui back in August.