After back-to-back losses, Kentucky Coach John Calipari identified two areas for his team to seek improvement: Toughness and defense.
“We’ve got to be a better defensive team than we are,” Calipari said after Kansas beat UK 79-73 Saturday.
Calipari repeatedly mentioned that Kansas made 58.8 percent of its shots in the second half (20 of 34). “You can’t win with teams shooting 60 percent . . . ,” he said. “You can’t score enough.”
Kansas Coach Bill Self credited two early three-pointers by freshman Josh Jackson as freeing his players’ minds.
“Josh’s two threes took the lid off,” he said, “and we were pretty good after that.”
Kansas made 50 percent of its shots (32 of 64). The Jayhawks became the fourth UK opponent to make at least half of its shots, and the second in four games. Mississippi State shot with 54.2-percent accuracy.
Calipari pointed out how Kansas made play and play down the stretch to hold off Kentucky.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” he said. “All plays they had to make. And they were effort plays, too.”
Isaiah Briscoe suggested that the cap to good defense — rebounding the opponent’s missed shots — must improve.
“We just got to stop letting second-chance points,” he said. “I think we need to rebound more.”
Kansas outscored Kentucky 17-7 in second-chance points.
“We’re not tough,” Briscoe said. “We’re not tough enough.”
Buy-in a problem?
When asked about the lessons UK can learn from the loss, Briscoe seemed to suggest that some teammates need to more fully accept the team’s approach.
“Everybody needs to buy in,” he said.
When asked to explain what he meant, Briscoe said, “I feel like everybody buys in. But sometimes people get caught up. Nobody’s perfect. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. But I think it’s happening a little too often.”
UK beats Kansas
Kentucky beat Kansas in the recruiting competition for star freshman De’Aaron Fox. On Friday, Fox explained his decision.
“Coming here, I knew I was going to play a lot,” he said. “And Cal just giving me the keys to the team. At this point, I’ve played point guard a whole season and I started every game.”
Kansas was a good option, Fox said. “I just felt this was the best fit,” he said. “And I knew guys who were coming and playing here. It wasn’t easy, but it was easy.”
The history of the Kentucky-Kansas series includes Rupp Arena’s dedication game on Dec. 11, 1976, a UK rally from down six with 30 seconds to play (Kyle Macy and Dwight Anderson led the way), the 150-95 KU blowout of the Cats in 1989 and the 2012 national championship game.
The teams first played on Dec. 16, 1950.
Jerry Waugh, who turns 90 next month, was a senior guard for Kansas. He recalled the game at Kentucky being the third in an eight-day road trip. The Jayhawks won at St. Joe’s on Dec. 9 and at St. John’s on Dec. 12.
Waugh recalled famed Kansas Coach Phog Allen trying to motivate the players for the game at Kentucky. Allen ordered the starters to sit on a training table. Overhead was a light that evoked an interrogation.
“Only you five young men represent a great school … great honor to represent the university,” Waugh recalled. “Most of us were young Kansas kids.”
Kentucky won 68-39. Or as Waugh put it, “We go out there and got our (butts) kicked real good.
“Later, Doc (Allen) said we stood around like Christmas trees,” Waugh said.
Allen was no shrinking violet, Waugh said.
“Doc had a lot of ego,” he said. “He was a big ego guy. As was Rupp.”
Earlier in the day, ESPN staged its GameDay show in Rupp Arena. That marked the eighth straight season UK basketball has been part of the show either as the home or visiting team.
An estimated crowd of 4,000 came to Rupp Arena to watch the show. This was a far smaller crowd than the 22,144 that came in 2010 and the 15,087 in 2013.
The fans got a jolt early when analyst Jay Williams said Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox would someday be considered the best backcourt combination in Kentucky basketball history.
UK Coach John Calipari made a nine-minute appearance.
Kentucky will not have to wait long for another game involving GameDay. The ESPN show will originate from Gainesville, Fla., next Saturday. UK plays at Florida that evening.
‘Punch in gut’
It had been a difficult week for Kansas. Not only did the Jayhawks lose at West Virginia, news broke of a police investigation into an alleged rape of a 16-year-old in the team’s dormitory. Self has said he knew of no evidence of his players involved in the alleged rape.
When asked how his team handled what he had called a “major distraction,” Self said, “I thought it was great. . . . Obviously, it was a punch in the gut.
“That’s not going to go away. There’s nothing for the players to hang their head about. The train doesn’t stop moving.”
The Big 12 has won the Challenge in each of its first three years: 7-3 in 2013-14, 6-4 in 2014-15 and 7-3 last season.
The Big 12 took an overall record of 20-10 into this year’s Challenge with the SEC.
Each team won 5 games this year. That marked the first time the SEC did not lose more games than it won in the series.
Kansas played No. 18 West Virginia on Tuesday, No. 4 Kentucky on Saturday and return home to play No. 5 Baylor on Wednesday.
Only one of the Jayhawks’ four McDonald’s All-Americans is playing: Josh Jackson. Udoka Azubuike suffered a season-ending broken wrist last month, Carlton Bragg Jr. is suspended and former ballyhooed Mississippi State freshman Malik Newman is sitting out as transfer.
Kentucky fans won the ninth annual competition with Florida fans to see which group could donate the most blood in the last week of January.
UK fans won 1,653 to 1,569. UK leads the friendly competition 5-4.
UK lost a second straight game for the first time since Jan. 30 and Feb. 2 of last season. Coincidentally, that two-game losing streak came against the same two programs: Kansas and Tennessee. . . . SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey attended the game.