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KU's biggest brand shines bright thanks to 3 outings vs. Kentucky

Records fall in Chicago, a freshman takes snaps at QB & KU volleyball gets strong play from 2 of its top hitters

6 min read

Every week we take a look back at the performances by KU athletes that were above and beyond.

From football to volleyball, cross-country, and all across the athletic department, we'll break down the best of the best in the world of Kansas athletics.

Performance #1: Hunter Dickinson, Dajuan Harris Jr. & Kevin McCullar Jr. 

Background: No. 1 Kansas basketball tops No. 17 Kentucky on Nov. 14 

What happened: At the Champions Classic in Chicago on Tuesday night, No. 1 Kansas faced a tie ballgame with just 2:04 remaining on the clock. Senior center Hunter Dickinson swished two free throws and knocked down a layup, assisted by graduate senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr. to push the KU lead to four with 1:15 remaining. 

Kansas converted two more free throws to seal the 89-84 victory, taking down the No. 17 Kentucky Wildcats. 

Dickinson proved to be instrumental in the Jayhawks’ win on Tuesday night, stuffing the stat sheet with 27 points, 21 rebounds and three steals on the night, adding four clutch points at the end of the game

Redshirt-senior guard Dajuan Harris Jr. was lights out for Kansas, especially down the stretch in the second half. Harris, who had attempted just two three-pointers in KU’s first two games of the season, got off to a blistering 5-5 start from downtown. 

Harris led the offense all night long, scoring the third-most points in the game (23) along with seven assists, two rebounds and a blocked shot.

McCullar couldn’t find his shot against Kentucky, shooting just 3-11 on the night, but he still managed to make his presence felt in other areas. McCullar stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with a 12-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist game with a steal and a block on the night.

Why it’s so great: Kansas saw multiple record-breaking performances against the Wildcats, with Dickinson, Harris and McCullar all cementing their names in the KU record books.

Dickinson’s 27-point, 21-rebound night made him the first KU player to put up 25 points and 20 rebounds against an AP Top 25 opponent in the last 25 seasons. Dickinson put up 27 points on 8-12 shooting and 10-11 shooting from the free throw line, adding in on the defensive end with three steals.

Harris put up a career high for points scored in a Kansas uniform, ending with 23 points on 7-12 shooting with an incredibly efficient 5-6 from the three-point line. McCullar finished with the third officially recognized triple-double in KU history, pulling down his 10th rebound in the final seconds of the ball game. 

Kansas faced a 14-point deficit early in the second half, but the Jayhawks never stopped fighting. Dickinson, McCullar and Harris all played a huge role in the win, with the Kansas bench scoring just four of the Jayhawks’ 89 points. 

KU's Hunter Dickinson, left, Kevin McCullar Jr., middle, and Dajuan Harris Jr., wait to take the court prior to Tuesday's 89-84 win over Kentucky in Chicago. [R1S1 Sports photo]

Performance #2: Cole Ballard

Background: Freshman quarterback Cole Ballard in a surprise appearance against Texas Tech on Nov. 11

What happened: Cole Ballard came into Kansas’ battle with the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the first half of Saturday’s game after an injury to redshirt-senior quarterback Jason Bean. Ballard completed his first pass of his career with a 12-yard pass to senior tight end Mason Fairchild on a 3rd and 12 in Jayhawk territory, trailing 10-0. 

Ballard had little experience throwing to the first-string offense, but he became Kansas’ best hope when Bean left the game with an apparent head injury. To make matters even more difficult, Ballard’s first offensive drive with the Jayhawks started inside Kansas’ 1-yard line facing a 10-point deficit. 

The freshman out of Westfield, Indiana took on the challenge and led an 18-play, 93-yard drive that had the Jayhawks facing 1st-and-goal, but the offense stalled and couldn’t score in four downs. 

Despite unexpectedly jumping into a matchup with a Big 12 Conference opponent, Ballard played well enough to keep the Jayhawks close until the very end of the game. Ending the day completing 9-20 pass attempts with 124 yards and just one interception in the third quarter, Ballard took a 13-0 game and tied it up at 13-13 with just 26 seconds remaining. 

The Red Raiders used the remaining 26 seconds to go 63 yards in just four plays to kick a game-winning field goal, defeating the No. 19 Jayhawks 16-13 on the road. 

Why it’s so great: With Ballard needing all the help he could get in his first ever appearance with the Jayhawks, Devin Neal proved to be a huge help to the Kansas offense. Neal ran for 137 yards on the ground and caught two passes for 12 yards through the air. 

Neal equated for over half of the Jayhawks total rushing yards and scored the lone Kansas touchdown in the fourth quarter with just over 12 minutes remaining. Neal scored a 60-yard touchdown off a run-pass option from Ballard as Neal ran to the endzone to cut the deficit to six points. 

The touchdown brought life to the Kansas offense that hadn’t put points on the board until the 12-minute mark of the final quarter. And although the Jayhawks managed to tie the game up at 13-13, Kansas fell to the Red Raiders on a game-winning walkoff field goal to end the game. 

Neal totaled 149 of the Jayhawks’ 344 total offensive yards in the game, while Ballard came into the game with little to no preparation filling in for an injured Bean in front of the KU home crowd. 

With Bean’s status unknown, Ballard may have an opportunity in the Jayhawks’ next contest: Saturday's Sunflower Showdown in Lawrence, which is slated for a 6 p.m. kickoff on FS1.

Kansas freshman Cole Ballard (15) tucks the ball and runs upfield during the Jayhawks' recent loss to Texas Tech at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. [Chance Parker photo]

Performance #3: Toyosi Onabanjo & Ayah Elnady

Background: Junior middle blocker Toyosi Onabanjo and junior outside hitter Ayah Elnady against the Iowa State Cyclones on Nov. 10 and 11

What happened: No. 14 Kansas traveled to Ames, Iowa to take on the Iowa State Cyclones in two five-set thrillers last weekend and the Jayhawks split the two-match series with the Cyclones.

Kansas dropped the first match with Iowa State, losing 3-2 after a 15-3 final set that saw the Cyclones dominate the fifth set. Each of the first four sets all finished within three points, but the Cyclones took over in the final set to take the first match with the Jayhawks. 

In the first match, Toyosi Onabanjo proved to be a force at the net, blocking 11 total attacks in five sets. Onabanjo racked up two solo blocks and nine block assists, leading the team in each. 

Kansas totaled 17 blocks against the Cyclones, while their offense converted at just a .184 hitting percentage. Onabanjo and the defense kept the Jayhawks alive until the very end, but dropped the match 3-2. 

The next day, Kansas rematched with Iowa State, taking the second match in another 3-2 score. The Jayhawks took the fifth set 19-17 with help from Ayah Elnady. 

Elnady led the match with a whopping 25 kills on 57 attacks, ending with just three attack errors in the match. Elnady converted on a .386 hitting percentage and helped lead the Kansas offense to a .291 hitting percentage for the match. 

Why it’s so great: The junior from Cairo, Egypt racked up 38 kills over the weekend on 105 attacks. Elnady now leads the team in kills with 284 in 85 sets played, averaging 3.34 kills per set. 

Elnady also put up two solo blocks and four block assists in the two-match series, helping on both offense and defense for the Jayhawks in two closely-fought contests. 

Onabanjo displayed her defensive skillset in both matches, ending the weekend with 14 block assists and two solo blocks. She now leads the team in solo blocks with 14 and block assists with 67 on the season, averaging 1.04 blocks per set

Onabanjo has just two block errors on the year with just four matches left. On top of her nine total blocks, Onabanjo added 16 kills in two matches. 

No. 17 Kansas now sits at 19-5 on the season with its next contest against the Baylor Bears back in Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena.

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