Kentucky shows big potential, reveals Kansas’ shortcomings in Big 12/SEC Challenge win

first_imgThe easiest way to ascertain that Kentucky was simply too big for the current iteration of Kansas Jayhawks is to check the box score line for Wildcats center Nick Richards and see how long (or how little) he was in the game. He played nine minutes.That’s right. No. 8 Kentucky was too big for No. 9 Kansas even with its 6-11 sophomore center sitting out most of the evening. Richards didn’t necessarily do anything wrong; he did, after all, throw back five shots as he passed through. But UK didn’t need a true center to deal with these Jayhawks. Reid Travis and PJ Washington, neither within three inches of standing 7 feet tall, overpowered the opposition with unrelenting fury in a 71-63 Wildcats victory at Rupp Arena in the Big 12/ SEC Challenge.Travis: 18 points, 12 rebounds, 7-of-11 shooting.Washington: 20 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks.MORE: Takeaways from Kentucky’s victoryKentucky reminded KU that the problem with playing small is that, well, you’re small. Dedric Lawson, at 6-9, is the tallest Jayhawks starter. No one else is even 6-6. It was made clear in these 40 minutes of basketball that one team on the floor at Rupp can win the NCAA championship and one, as presently constructed, cannot. And the one that is capable did not travel home by plane.“Reid Travis is a monster,” Kansas coach Bill Self told reporters afterward. “Dedric fought him hard. Dedric played his butt off. But it was two against one on every possession.”The Jayhawks have been in this position since center Udoka Azubuike was lost for the year with an injury. They’re trying to get by with Lawson at center and three 6-5 guys adjacent to him. It can work, unless it doesn’t.And it’s least likely to work against the very best teams, whose wings are just a little bit better at defending and whose bigs are mobile enough not to be overrun by dynamic ballhandlers. Lagerald Vick and Marcus Garrett were a combined 5 of 18 from the field and scored 14 points. With UK freshman Tyler Herro hounding him, Vick only took a single shot in the second half until he hit a 3-pointer with 1:18 left. It still was a seven-point game then.Self explained that for the small-ball approach to work, the Jayhawks must be dangerous from long range. That keeps the defense spread wide on the floor and puts the emphasis on speed. KU has delivered in this department more often than not since Azubuike’s injury. The Jayhawks shot 40.4 percent from long distance in going 4-1 in their first five games without him. In this game, they wound up at 39.1 percent, but two of their 3s came in the final 90 seconds with the game all but decided.“We did some decent things there, but there were too many errors and too many naked possessions offensively,” Self said. “But we tried. If we’d won this game, I’d be happy going home, but trust me, it doesn’t mean that much. When we lose the game, I’m not happy going home, but it’s not going to affect us in any way, shape or form for preparing for our next game.“We’ve got to do some things better, but we’re so limited right now from a size standpoint. When we play teams who have two true bigs, and one of those bigs is a guard from a skill standpoint, that makes it awfully tough to deal with.”Not every national championship contender looks just like the team Self described, but Duke does. Michigan does. Gonzaga does. Virginia kind of does. Needless to say, the muscle and length these teams contain would cause KU extreme difficulty at the highest levels of the NCAA Tournament.FAGAN’S HOOPS ROAD TRIP: 10th edition, one day, five gamesOh, and in case we didn’t make it clear and Self didn’t make it clear, Kentucky obviously is in that category.The Wildcats were doubted by many because their development as a freshman-heavy team has been gradual, and they lost half of their first six games against high-major opponents. They now have won their past six, including three against top-25 teams.”Are you getting better individually and as a team? We are,” Calipari said. “We are taking that gradual climb and I know – I don’t know if it’s people’s opinion of what we were or their hope of what we were. Like some people have a hope and it’s not an opinion: It’s their hope we stink. I think we played into it early.”There was plenty of doubt about Kentucky’s viability as a contender after it was hammered by Duke 118-84 in the season-opening Champions Classic. The Wildcats appeared inept; the Blue Devils appeared unstoppable. The nature of that loss set back the Wildcats for a good while. They did not bounce back as though it were a routine defeat.But they did, eventually, bounce back.Asked whether he expected the rest of the college hoops nation to respect the Wildcats now, Washington answered, “They should.”last_img

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