The 8th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks jumped right back into the thick of the Big 12 Conference race and did it in impressive and convincing fashion, knocking off No. 4 Houston 78-65 on Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks (18-4 overall, 6-3 Big 12) led throughout and rode the wave of the incredible energy from the home crowd to hand Houston just their third loss of the season. The Cougars are now 19-3 overall and 6-3 in Big 12 play.
Four of KU's five starters finished in double figures, with Hunter Dickinson leading the way with 20 points and 8 rebounds and Johnny Furphy and Kevin McCullar Jr. adding 17 apiece.
McCullar, who returned from a knee injury that kept him out of Tuesday's game against Oklahoma State, put the exclamation point on this win with a high-flying follow-dunk finish in the final minutes.
That kind of balance has become common for Kansas in recent outings, and the Jayhawks delivered it against one of the best defensive teams in the country.
Next up, it’s a trip down I-70 for a Big Monday battle with Kansas State. Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m. on ESPN.
The Wildcats lost at Oklahoma State on Saturday to push their losing streak to four in a row. You know Bramlage Coliseum will be ready to welcome the Jayhawks to town, though, no matter how the ‘Cats are playing or what their record is.
Now, here’s a look back at some of the highlights and memorable moments from Saturday’s game against the Cougars.
• How about that KU fire: If the first half showed us anything, it was exactly what can happen when you tell a highly ranked and talented Kansas basketball team that someone is better than they are. Oh mama! The Jayhawks not only played a terrific first half, but they did it with the kind of fire and ferocity of a champion. It was in their play. It was in their effort. And it damn sure showed up on their faces. It’s not very often that the Jayhawks are doubted, but boy does it play to their advantage when they are.
• First possession said a lot: Houston won the tip and quickly tried to assert itself by running an offensive set for a successful lob to take a 2-0 lead on the game’s first possession. Game on, right? Right. On KU’s first possession, KJ Adams caught a pass near the free throw line and quickly and decisively made a play to the basket, finishing through significant contact to tie the game and show the visiting Cougars that the Jayhawks were ready to roll. Houston never led again after that 2-0 lead. And the Jayhawks just kept playing with more physicality and tenacity the rest of the way. For my money, KJ Adams was far and away the best player in the game on Saturday, making good on UH coach Kelvin Sampson's claim earlier in the week that Adams is "the most underrated player in America."
• Crowd was ready: Most nights at Allen Fieldhouse, the KU crowd can be good but also border on being a little spoiled by seeing some of the best basketball in the college game and all of that winning. In this one, the crowd had the look and sound and feel of a true underdog. Houston was, in fact, favored by the oddsmakers, so it wasn’t much of a stretch. And the AFH fans leaned into it big time. That roar before tipoff was as loud as I can remember, reading almost 127 on the decibel meter that was shown on the scoreboard just before tip.
• Furphy just gets it: It took him a minute to get into the starting lineup, but boy does he belong. Not only has he been a lift from a scoring and offensive perspective, but he’s a willing rebounder and a competitive kid in every other aspect, as well. Nothing showed that more than a possession early in the second half on Saturday, when Dajuan Harris Jr. kept the Houston miss alive and Furphy dove on the floor for the ball and also contorted his body in a way that allowed him to not only get the ball but also shield it from the Houston player. Coaches love plays like that. And Furphy makes them without really even thinking about it. All instinct. Great feel. Great player.
• McCullar returns: After missing Tuesday’s game with a bone bruise, KU senior Kevin McCullar Jr. returned to the starting lineup for this one. No one should’ve been surprised by his return. McCullar is a gamer if ever there were one. But it was good to see him not only back in the lineup but also showing no ill effects of the injury. The only sign of it was a rather large knee pad on his left knee that he wore under his tights. For what it’s worth, KU big man Hunter Dickinson, who also has battled knee soreness this season, also wore a similar pad under his tights on his left knee.
• Trouble with Cryer: After holding him down for most of the first half, the Jayhawks let Houston guard LJ Cryer (formerly of Baylor) get loose in the second half. The talented guard finished with 24 points, 21 of them coming in the second half. He was 8-of-16 overall and 5-of-9 from 3-point range after starting the game 1-for-5 from the floor.
• Nine first-half turnovers: If not for the nine turnovers the Jayhawks had in the first half, they might’ve been up by 20 or more at the break. Instead, they led by 15 (43-28) and helped make up for their miscues with spectacular effort, defense and rebounding. The Jayhawks out-rebounded Houston 24-10 in the first half to help cancel out those turnovers, many of which were just giveaways by the Jayhawks. The Jayhawks finished with 18 turnovers for the game.
• They’re shooting what?: It’s one thing to open a game making 14 of 20 shots and saying you shot 70% for the first 15 minutes of the game. It’s something entirely different to still be doing that eight minutes into the second half and against arguably the best defensive team in the country. That’s exactly what KU did on Saturday to Houston, knocking in 23 of its first 33 shot attempts in a wildly efficient and incredibly effective offensive performance. During that same stretch, Houston had attempted 53 shots and made just 16 of them, good for 30.2% shooting. KU finished the day shooting 69%, at 31 of 45 overall and 6-of-13 from 3-point range. Houston shot 36%.
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