It got ugly early for the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday night. A struggling defense and a freezing-cold offense was no match for the Kentucky Wildcats, who played the role of the aggressor in a hostile road environment.
When the carnage finally ceased, the 12th-ranked team in the nation beat the No. 5 Jayhawks 80-62, continuing one of the roughest days for the Big 12 in the history of the Big 12-SEC Challenge. That’s the second-worst home loss of the Bill Self era at Kansas, only surpassed by last season’s loss to Texas.
The Wildcats were nearly unstoppable on the offensive end, specifically in the first half. Kansas allowed Kentucky to shoot nearly 62% from the floor and 65% from inside the arc before halftime.
“In the first seven minutes they jumped out to that lead, and they were the aggressors throughout the first half and late in the second half, too,” senior guard Ochai Agbaji said.
An inability to turn Kentucky over was one of the major reasons why Kansas struggled defensively.
“They were playing fast, but if they’re going to play fast we need to make them pay for it,” Agbaji said.
There wasn’t much relief for the Jayhawks after the 20-minute storm to open the game, either. The Wildcats finished ended up 51% from the floor for the game.
Kentucky’s Keion Brooks led all scorers, pouring in xx points. He was one of four UK players to crack double figures.
“We went in a couple different defenses to try to make him beat us, and he beat us,” junior guard Christian Braun said.
KU’s offense never found a rhythm, an equally large contributing factor to Saturday’s blowout loss. Agbaji’s worst night of the season, arguably, was at the forefront of that struggle. The All-America candidate had an especially rough start to the game, opening the contest 1-of-7 from the floor for just three points. He ended the game with xx, but his struggles were a microcosm of the Jayhawks’ game-long woes.
“I just really couldn’t get in a groove,” Agbaji said. “Things weren’t rolling for the offense in the first half anyway … Stuff just wasn’t falling tonight.”
Self pushed back on the notion that Agbaji had an especially bad game, chalking up his performances to the law of averages evening things out after his masterful stretch as of late. He did say, however, that the level of competition did the Jayhawks in.
“I thought they tried, I don’t think we competed very well,” Self said. “And there’s a difference between ‘try hard’ and ‘compete.'”
Outside of the Jayhawks’ general malaise, a staggering rebounding deficit headlined KU’s worst loss of the season. Kansas was -12 in the turnover margin, getting outworked on the glass 41-29.
Self went through a multitude of lineups in an attempt to quell the Kentucky onslaught, but none of them made a noticeable impact. Freshman guard Bobby Pettiford played a large portion of the second half, while freshman forward K.J. Adams, one of the heroes of Monday’s win over Texas Tech, didn’t play at all in the first half before playing a majority of the second half.
That game five days ago against the Red Raiders was one of several recently that the Jayhawks won in dramatic, close fashion. This game was effectively a polar opposite.
“We’ve been living on the razor’s edge the last couple weeks,” Self said, adding that while he doesn’t think that “caught up” to KU this time around, but that Kentucky’s talent won out.
KU’s loss was the sixth for the Big 12 in this year’s Big 12-SEC Challenge, guaranteeing a loss in this year’s event for the second year in a row.
While Kansas slipped to 17-3 overall this season with the loss and will likely drop in the next AP Top 25 poll, nothing changes in terms of the conference title race, which will reignite Tuesday when the Jayhawks visit No. 23 Iowa State. Self was blunt about how much a late-season nonconference game matters to him relative to a conference matchup.
“I’d much rather beat Iowa State than beat Kentucky,” Self said.
As for what it will take to get back to playing their best, Agbaji said that attention to detail is going to be important.
“Go back to the drawing board, watch film, prepare for Iowa State Tuesday,” Agbaji said. “That’s all we can do.”