While John Calipari’s Kentucky team had a few incredible runs on Tuesday night in Chicago, they just couldn’t quite get past Hunter Dickinson and the top-ranked Jayhawks down the stretch.
No. 1 Kansas, after falling into a 14-point hole in the second half, came storming back late at the United Center to beat No. 17 Kentucky 89-84 in the second game of the State Farm Champions Classic.
Duke beat Michigan State 74-65 in the earlier game.
Dickinson, who transferred into Lawrence from Michigan last season, was unstoppable in the paint. He dropped 27 points and had 21 rebounds in the win, and came up with a huge contested layup where he barely jumped in the final 90 seconds. That pushed the Jayhawks back up by three, and set up their last defensive stand to seal the five-point win.
“That’s why they brought me here, to try to dominate the game … This is Kansas basketball,” Dickinson said on ESPN after the win. “When you’ve got the most wins in NCAA history, you find ways to win. That’s what we did tonight. We knew we were down seven, but we’ve been in worse positions.”
Kentucky, Rob Dillingham fly ahead early
Kansas opened the game on an 11-3 tear, and seemed poised to take the contest from the jump. Kentucky, however, rallied right away behind a huge performance from Rob Dillingham. The freshman guard came in and dropped 16 of his 18 points in the first 20 minutes off the bench. He made four 3-pointers in a row late in the second half and then assisted on a fifth, which helped push the Wildcats to an 11-point lead.
Dickinson, however, limited the damage in the final 20 seconds of the first half. After hitting a pair of free throws, he drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer from the top of the key after a bad Dillingham turnover to cut the Wildcats’ lead to just seven points. Dickinson had a double-double entering the locker room.
While Kentucky pushed its lead to 14 briefly in the second half, the Jayhawks finally turned it on after Dickinson powered through a huge and-one putback in the paint. That sparked a 7-0 run, which was capped by a wild dunk from K.J. Adams after a perfect pass from Kevin McCullar on the break. That suddenly brought the Jayhawks within just four points, and completely swung the momentum their way.
Just moments later, McCullar converted an and-one to give Kansas a 3-point lead in what had become a 16-2 run.
Yet Kentucky never went away. They built up a five-point lead once again, but Kansas’ Dajuan Harris hit a pair of wide open 3-pointers, and then he and Dickinson hit a pair of free throws each for a 7-0 run to grab the lead right back. That’s what led to Dickinson’s last bucket and the Jayhawks’ final stop.
“The end of the game, missing free throws and missing shots, we broke down,” Calipari said, via Heat Check CBB’s Brian Rauf. “We have to get better at finishing. What I was proud of is how we fought. That’s a huge team, and we had to fight to survive.”
Antonio Reeves led Kentucky with 24 points and eight rebounds, and Adou Thiero added 16 points and 13 rebounds. Reed Sheppard put up 13 points off the bench, too. While they made nine 3-pointers in the first half, the Wildcats added just three in the last 20 minutes.
Harris finished with a career-high 23 points and seven rebounds for Kansas, and McCullar had a triple-double with 12 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. Dickinson shot 8-of-12 from the field and made 10 free throws to grab his 27 points on the night. He is the first player with 20 points and 20 rebounds against Kentucky over the last 25 seasons, according to ESPN.
“It was a crazy departure [from Michigan], but here, it feels like a new home for me,” Dickinson said on ESPN. “The fans really embrace me. I’ve got a great coach, and I’ve got a lot of unselfish guys that make me look great.”
Though it’s now 2-1, Kentucky looked like it can easily be a force in the SEC this season. It’ll host Stonehill, Saint Joseph’s and Marshall before hosting No. 12 Miami in the ACC/SEC Challenge later this month.
Kansas, on the other hand, doesn’t get much of a break. The Jayhawks head to the Maui Invitational next, where they’ll see either No. 4 Marquette or UCLA, and could run into No. 7 Tennessee, No. 2 Purdue or No. 11 Gonzaga.