Kentucky's looking forward to taking on Kansas
Kentucky-Kansas figures to be another episode in this season’s exhaustive Ken Burns-like series on youth versus experience.
Kansas senior point guard Devonte’ Graham touted the advantage that comes with experience.
“It helps a lot,” he said, “because you’ve been in situations before. I’ve played in many big games and know it’s a game of runs.”
Of course, Kentucky depends more than ever on freshmen.
“The first big game as a freshman, you might get a little nervous,” Graham said. “More nerves than usual.”
When asked to compare himself as a freshman in 2014-15 and now, Graham said, “As a freshman, it was like being thrown into the wild. I didn’t know what to expect Very nervous. Little confidence. Just learned the system.
“Now, I feel I’m super confident. My IQ is way higher. My aggressiveness on defense has gone up. My leadership has definitely increased.”
Coincidentally, UK Coach John Calipari spoke Monday about how confidence can be gained.
“Real simple,” he said. “Playing harder than the guy I’m playing against.”
Going into this season, Graham had played 3,024 minutes of Division I basketball. UK’s roster had a total of 839 minutes (676 by Wenyen Gabriel).
Kansas Coach Bill Self downplayed the presumption that his team is vastly more experienced. He said only three of his players were well seasoned: senior Svi Mykhailiuk (1,720 minutes going into this season), junior Lagerald Vick (969 minutes) and Graham.
“So I’m just as curious to see how we react to the bright lights,” Self said.
Self scoffed at a reporter’s question about a poor start in the game dooming a team to defeat.
“You guys are overthinking this, from my perspective,” he said. “If you say we’ve got to get off to a good start, what happens if you don’t? If you have a good start, does that mean you’re going to win? It doesn’t mean anything at all. It’s a 40-minute game, and you’ve got to understand it’s a long game.”
Self also downplayed the notion that the game will have long-term consequences. As an example, he pointed out that after losing 72-40 to UK three years ago, Kansas eventually became a No. 2 seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
“I’m not sure in this event, whether you win or you don’t win is going to dictate what kind of season you’re going to have,” Self said.
Of playing Kansas, Quade Green said, “I’m very excited. I’ve been growing up watching these games. Now, I’m in it. You can’t do nothing but be excited.”
After outlasting Vermont on Sunday, UK players spoke of that competitive game serving as preparation for facing Kansas.
“A difficult game like this prepares us for any other game, any game that potentially could be close,” Sacha Killeya-Jones said.
Green said Vermont was “probably the best team to come in here. It’s great. This was great preparation for us going into Tuesday because (Kansas) is going to be the same way except they’re going to be tougher and more the aggressor.”
Calipari shrugged off his inexperienced team playing a third game in five days.
“This is fine,” he said. “This is going to be a really hard game for us to win. The good news is — thank goodness — we played (Vermont) at 3:30. So the staff could prepare (for Kansas). But I’m more concerned with how we’re playing than how Kansas plays.”
Calipari said Nick Richards played only 13 minutes against Vermont because the Catamounts’ “bigs” shot three-pointers and other players, such as Wenyen Gabriel, were better suited to defend on the perimeter at this stage of the season.
Conversely, Calipari expects Kansas to play more of a power game. Or as the UK coach put it, “a mush-mouth” style. This would better suit Richards.
“It may be right for Tai (Wynyard), too,” Calipari said. “This may be a Tai game. Let him go in there and bang the crap out of them.”
Reversal of fortune?
Three years ago, Kentucky gave Self the most lopsided defeat of his coaching career. UK won 72-40 in a game Graham called “really a beatdown from the jump.”
Self can make a different kind of history this season. If Kansas wins, he will tie Roy Williams for the second-most victories by a Jayhawks coach. Each would have 418. Phog Allen has the most with 590.
“I did not know that …,” Self said on a teleconference Sunday. “If we’re fortunate enough to win the game, I don’t think there would be one thought in anyone’s mind (about tying Williams’ 418 victories). I don’t think that would be one part of the equation, and certainly doesn’t need to be.”
▪ From the intriguing coincidence file: Calipari and Self have the same .826 winning percentage at their present schools. Calipari is 251-53 at UK, Self 417-88 at Kansas.
▪ The UK Alumni Association plans a pep rally at the Kaiser Tiger in Chicago (1415 W. Randolph St.) before Kentucky plays Kansas. Doors open at 11 a.m. A shuttle bus will be available from Kaiser Tiger to the United Center from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Directions and additional details available at www.ukalumni.net/championsclassic2017.
▪ Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale and sideline reporter Maria Taylor will call the game for ESPN.
No. 7 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Kansas
What: Champions Classic
Where: United Center in Chicago
When: About 9:30 p.m. (Second game of a doubleheader that features No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan State in the opener)
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Kentucky 2-0, Kansas 1-0
Series: Kentucky leads 22-8
Last meeting: Kansas won 79-73 in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge on Jan. 28, 2017, in Rupp Arena.