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Pair of all-Big 12 Jayhawks living up to their huge preseason hype

Big games in Honolulu, more dominance by KU volleyball & a Kansas kid crushes it in the Sunflower Showdown

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: Kevin McCullar Jr. and Hunter Dickinson

Background: Graduate senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr. senior center Hunter Dickinson against the Chaminade Silverswords on Nov. 20

What Happened: No. 1 Kansas began its Maui Invitational tournament run with a battle against the Chaminade Silverswords, where the Jayhawks pulled away with an 83-56 victory. Kansas finished the game with its biggest lead of the night, led by two senior leaders of the KU squad. 

Hunter Dickinson dominated the low post yet again after finishing with a 27-point, 21-rebound performance in his last game against the Kentucky Wildcats. Dickinson led the Jayhawks with a career-high 31 points with 11 rebounds, good for another double-double on the year. 

The Michigan transfer seemingly couldn’t miss against Chaminade, converting 15-18 of his field goal attempts and 1-2 from behind the arc, good for 83.3% from the field. Dickinson did his damage almost solely from inside the three-point line, scoring 31 points despite zero free throw attempts in the game.

Although Dickinson led the team in points with his new career high, it was Kevin McCullar Jr. that made history yet again for the Jayhawks. McCullar ended the night with a triple-double, the fourth triple-double in Kansas history, and the first time in KU history that a player recorded back-to-back triple-doubles. 

Why it’s so Great: McCullar finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists to cap off another historic night for the graduate senior in a 27-point victory. He finished with a triple-double in his previous game against Kentucky with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. 

Not only did McCullar finish with a triple-double against the Silverswords, he added three steals and two blocks on the night, stuffing the stat sheet in every statistical category. Recording a triple-double at the college level is a difficult feat to accomplish, but to do it in consecutive games is something only a few have done before. 

Becoming the first player in KU history to drop back-to-back triple-doubles, McCullar joined just six others to record consecutive triple-doubles, most recently with Tony Lee in 2008.

While McCullar made history, Dickinson led Kansas in scoring by dominating the painted area. The Jayhawks finished with 58 points in the paint, winning the battle in the paint 58-22. 

Dickinson and McCullar were the only Jayhawks to finish with double-digit scoring numbers, combining for 53 of KU’s 83 points, as Kansas advanced to its next matchup in the Maui Invitational. 

KU senior Reagan Cooper returned from a recent injury to help the Jayhawks continue their roll through the Big 12 Conference. [Chance Parker photo]

Performance #2: Reagan Cooper and Ayah Elnady 

Background: Graduate outside hitter Reagan Cooper and junior outside hitter Ayah Elnady against BYU, Baylor, and Cincinnati 

What Happened: No. 15 Kansas volleyball had itself an action-packed week, competing in three matches in the same week. KU faced off against No. 16 BYU on the road, No. 25 Baylor at home and Cincinnati on the road. 

Despite three huge Big 12 Conference matches in the same week, the Jayhawks made quick work of their opponents, dropping just one set in those matches. Reagan Cooper and Ayah Elnady proved to be the catalysts to the KU offense, pushing Kansas to a 22-5 record on the year while picking up two ranked victories as well. 

Cooper’s performance of the week came against the BYU Cougars in Provo, Utah on Nov. 17, where she racked up 25 kills through just four kills on a .429 hitting percentage. Cooper led the entire match in kills and had just four attack errors on the day, adding three block assists to her stat sheet. 

Just two days earlier against the Baylor Bears, Cooper again led the entire match in kills with 17 kills on a .516 hitting percentage, adding a solo block and a block assist as well. And if that wasn’t enough, Cooper again led the match in kills against the Cincinnati Bearcats with 15 with four block assists on the day

Cooper finished the week with 57 kills in 10 sets, averaging 5.7 kills per set as Kansas came away with two sweeps. 

Why it’s so Great: Elnady also made her presence felt at the net, putting up 45 kills through three matches and putting together a dominant 1-2 punch between herself and Cooper. Kansas’ offense proved to be the answer for the Jayhawks all week long, combining for a .270 hitting percentage or better in all three matches. 

Cooper’s stellar week didn’t go unnoticed as she picked up the AVCA/TARAFLEX Division I National Player of the Week honor, the first of her career. Cooper also received Big 12 Player of the Week honors while surpassing 1,000 career kills, achieving the mark during KU’s match with Baylor on Nov. 15.

With two ranked victories during the past week, KU looks to move up the AVCA Top-25 rankings with just one regular season match remaining against the UCF Golden Knights on Nov. 25. These victories should also help the Jayhawks in terms of hosting NCAA Tournament matches once the postseason begins.

Cooper, Elnady and the Jayhawks now await their final match with the Golden Knights, as well as NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday. 

KU running back Devin Neal (4) poses for the crowd during the Sunflower Showdown at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Nov. 18, 2023. [Chance Parker photo]

Performance #3: Devin Neal 

Background: Junior running back Devin Neal against Kansas State

What Happened: Kansas football took on the No. 21 Kansas State Wildcats on Nov. 18 for KU’s Senior Night game. The Dillons Sunflower Showdown marked the Jayhawks’ final game inside David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, and the Wildcats pulled away late in the fourth quarter to seal a 31-27 victory over KU. 

For the second straight game, freshman quarterback Cole Ballard was at the helm for the Jayhawks and the freshman showed his poise in the pocket throughout the first half. Ballard led Kansas to a 20-16 lead to end the first half of play, ending the half with a five-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Lawrence Arnold. 

Kansas opened the second half with the football, getting on the scoreboard with a 1:32 minute drive ending with a two-yard touchdown run from Devin Neal. Quickly, the Jayhawks found themselves with an 11-point lead to essentially start the second half, with the home crowd energized behind them. 

The Wildcats responded with a touchdown run of their own with 6:35 remaining in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to just three points after a successful two-point conversion. With 10:22 remaining in the game, K-State quarterback Will Howard ran into the endzone after a 15-yard rush to put the Wildcat up four points. 

That touchdown proved to be the game winner for the ‘Cats, taking the 31-27 victory to take down the Jayhawks on their home turf. 

Why it’s so Great: Despite the loss, Neal had himself a day on the ground for KU. Neal ended the night with 18 carries for 138 yards and three touchdowns. Neal’s 138-yard rushing performance put him over 1,000 yards on the season, his second-straight season with 1,000 yards on the ground. 

Neal joined Pooka Williams and James Sims as the only other Jayhawk running backs to have consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Neal also surpassed 30 career rushing touchdowns, passing Tony Sands for third in KU history. 

The junior completed his second-straight game with over 100 yards on the ground and his fourth-straight game crossing the goal line for a touchdown. Neal has continued to provide Kansas with much needed offensive production game in and game out as the Jayhawks continue to deal with injuries at the quarterback position. 

Although the final outcome of the game didn’t go the Jayhawks way, Kansas still showed they can hang around with any team in the country no matter who is starting at quarterback. Ballard finished the game completing 11-16 pass attempts, throwing two interceptions in the process

Ballard’s last interception came on a 4th and 5 at K-State’s 11-yard line, getting picked off in the endzone for a touchback with 5:33 left in the game. 

Kansas (7-4, 4-4) plays its final regular season game of the season Nov. 25 against the Cincinnati Bearcats in Cincinnati, Ohio at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

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