No. 7 Kansas and No. 20 Kentucky, bluebloods looking to find themselves early in this strange season, meet Tuesday night in Indianapolis as part of the Champions Classic.
The Jayhawks (1-1) opened with a 102-90 loss to top-ranked Gonzaga in Fort Myers, Fla., as the Bulldogs exposed a rebuilding Kansas frontcourt by shooting a stunning 64.5 percent and posting a plus-nine rebounding edge.
Meanwhile, Kentucky (1-1) has plenty to learn on the fly, too, after falling 76-64 to visiting Richmond on Sunday.
At least Kansas appeared to do some learning in its second game, often utilizing a small-ball lineup to pull away from Saint Joseph’s 94-72 on Friday. The Jayhawks are kicking the tires on new combinations after losing big man Udoka Azubuike and point guard Devon Dotson from a team that was ready to challenge for the 2020 national championship.
Sophomore Christian Braun scored a career-high 30 points to go with nine rebounds in the win. Coach Bill Self also unleashed his depth — nine players saw at least 10 minutes of court time — and was pleased with redshirt freshman point guard Dajuan Harris.
Harris played only three minutes against Gonzaga, but he sparked Kansas in the second half against Saint Joseph’s, finishing with five assists, three rebounds, three points and two steals in 15 minutes.
“The biggest difference in the ball moving was Dajuan was in the game,” Self said. “The ball never stuck with him. When he got it, it was in and out of his hands so fast, that makes the defense go from strong to weak faster.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari is undergoing his annual youth movement, starting four freshmen against Richmond. It wasn’t pretty, as the Wildcats committed 21 turnovers and missed all 10 attempts from 3-point range.
Kentucky had five assists — none in the second half.
“I think that we have to become a little bit more unselfish on the offensive end,” assistant coach Joel Justus said in a postgame press conference.
“This is an opportunity for our guys to learn. It’s a lesson for them, especially in that backcourt, how young we are, and I think we’ll grow. We’ll get better from this.”
Kentucky, which opened with an 81-45 win over Morehead State, is still waiting on the return of Keion Brooks Jr., who is the lone returner from last season’s rotation. Brooks, recovering from a leg injury, averaged 4.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 15.1 minutes per game as a freshman last season.
Justus said Brooks will continue to be evaluated before Tuesday’s game.
In the meantime, Brandon Boston Jr. leads the Wildcats with 17.5 points per game.
“I feel like I have a big responsibility uplifting and encouraging the team to just fight through adversity all the time,” he said after the loss to Richmond. “I’d rather for it to happen to us now rather than later. I feel like next game we will come in with a clear mind and a fresh mindset.”
Braun is averaging 19 points for Kansas, with Ochai Agbaji next at 17.5.
Kentucky snapped a three-game losing streak to Kansas with a 71-63 home win on Jan. 26, 2019, as part of the SEC/Big 12 challenge. Self is 6-4 against the Wildcats, but Calipari is 4-3 in head-to-head matchups while at Kentucky.
–Field Level Media