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Moments That Popped: No. 1 KU 89, No. 17 Kentucky 84

A career-high, a triple-double, a Champions Classic record and more

5 min read
KU big man Hunter Dickinson catches a pass that led to a bucket inside during the Jayhawks' Champions Classic win over Kentucky on Tuesday night in Chicago. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Chicago — The top-ranked Kansas Jayhawks picked up their fourth consecutive Champions Classic win in come-from-behind fashion on Tuesday night at United Center.

After trailing No. 17 Kentucky by 14 points (58-44) early in the second half, KU stormed back to tie the game, take the lead, give up the lead and then steal it back in the final minutes.

It was a career night for several Jayhawks.

Hunter Dickinson’s 27 points and 21 points were the best by a KU big man since Thomas Robinson scored 30 and grabbed 21 rebounds in a win over North Dakota in December of 2011.

Dickinson’s 21 rebounds on Tuesday night also were a Champions Classic record, topping the mark previously owned by former Kentucky big man Oscar Tshiebwe.

Dajuan Harris Jr.'s 23 points in 38 minutes were a career high. He made 5 of 6 from 3-point range to secure the win.

Kevin McCullar's triple-double (12 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) was just the third official such accomplishment in KU history.

Here’s a look back at some of the highlights and best moments from Tuesday’s wild win on college basketball’s biggest stage.


• Hunter Dickinson active early: This type of stage — and others like it — was a big part of the reason the former Michigan big man chose to come to Kansas, and he did not waste any time taking advantage of his opportunity to shine. Dickinson was extremely active on both ends early, getting on the offensive and defensive glass, sliding his feet on D and scoring inside for six early points. The KU big man reached double-digit rebounds by the third media timeout and he only kept going from there. By the end of the first half, which ended with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by the KU big man, Dickinson had tallied 13 points and 10 rebounds in 18 minutes.

• Harris pulls the trigger: Kentucky showed its hand early on in this one, when, on the game’s first possession, they left Dajuan Harris Jr. all alone behind the 3-point line, essentially forcing him to shoot the ball if he wanted to. After a brief pause, Harris did just that, drilling the 3-pointer to open the scoring and knocking in two of three more shots later in the half. This from a guy who showed in KU’s first few games that he did not need to or even really want to shoot the ball. But he knows that he’ll have to take those for KU to run at peak efficiency and it was good to see him step into one to start Tuesday’s game.

• Poise takes over: After getting down by a game-high 14 points, at 58-44, midway through the second half, the Jayhawks ripped off a 20-4 run in 5:28 — with 13 of the 20 coming from Dickinson and Harris. KU took advantage of several freshman mistakes by the Wildcats and looked to be in complete control of the game again, before things got tight and Kentucky jumped back into the driver’s seat. Harris, McCullar, Adams and Dickinson — KU’s core of veterans — all made big plays during the run. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, they couldn’t put the clamps on this one with that run, and the Wildcats came out of the other side watching KU melt down a little bit with some sloppy and ugly plays late. KU’s poise won out, though, when the Jayhawks — specifically Harris (see below) — saved their best for last in terms of making winning plays and using their experience to snag the victory.

• Harris 3-pointers late: With time running out and the Jayhawks desperate to find some offense, Dajuan Harris Jr. scored 8 straight points, including a pair of 3-point makes on back-to-back possessions to tie the ballgame at 83 with 2:35 to play. KU was 4-of-15 from 3-point range at the time Harris drained his back-to-back triples.


• Uh, guys, wanna guard the 3?: KU trailed by seven points at halftime — and a dozen late in the first half — in large part because of a 3-point barrage by the Wildcats that completely flipped the game. KU was dominating early on and then the Jayhawks got a step lazy on D and UK took full advantage. At one point, Rob Dillingham hit four 3-pointers in a row and assisted on a fifth to put Kentucky in the driver’s seat. That surge from 3-point range was basically the difference in the half and KU went to the locker room down 48-41 and having to face their head coach after nearly giving up 50 to a team full of freshman in the first 20 minutes. Bet that was fun.


• "Moments That Popped"

• Kentucky bench dominates: KU’s depth, or lack thereof, has been a question mark all offseason, but the lack of firepower on the bench really showed up in this one. The Wildcats’ bench outscored Kansas 22-0 in the first half, as Kentucky led 48-41 at the break. Sixteen of those came from freshman guard Rob Dillingham, who hit 4 of 5 3-pointers in 10 first-half minutes, and Reed Sheppard had the other six on a pair of 3-pointers himself. The UK bench outscored KU 31-4 by game's end, with two of those KU points coming from Jamari McDowell whose two free throws late iced the game.

• Why double?: There was a possession in the first half when Kevin McCullar’s man caught the ball in the post and had a one-on-one situation with the KU senior. McCullar can handle that. Especially in this matchup, where the Jayhawks have the size advantage at most spots. Still, Dickinson rushed over to trap the post and the Wildcats quickly made two passes without even thinking about it to get a wide-open corner 3 on the other side of the floor. As soon as the shot fell through, Self waved both hands toward the floor. Defending the 3-point line was an issue for Kansas throughout the first half, but that breakdown originated with the decision to double the post.


• Late-game lineup without McCullar & Dickinson: It makes plenty of sense to give guys a rest and sit them when they have four fouls. But to do it with both Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar Jr. at the same time with 7 minutes to play out of a timeout was a bit of a shocker. The Jayhawks went with Harris, Elmarko Jackson, Parker Braun, KJ Adams and Nick Timberlake from the 7:18 mark of the 2nd half to the 6:03 mark, when Self put both starters back in for Braun and Timberlake. When they sat, it was a tie game. When they came back in, KU was down by three with a free throw that made it four (76-72) coming right away. Self clearly knows what he’s doing. But to see both of those guys on the bench at the same time at a clutch moment in the game was more than a little surprising.

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