With Kentucky trailing Kansas 58-57 and with less than three minutes left, freshman point guard Quade Green drove into the lane. Then he put up a tentative shot that barely reached the rim rather than make what has become a signature UK move: a lob that a big man dunks.
“Obviously, I thought Quade was going to throw that lob,” UK Coach John Calipari said. “And he shot it. He’s a freshman. We had a lot of those.”
Speaking of which, Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk beat UK down the court six minutes earlier and scored a breakaway layup.
“C’mon,” Calipari said. “In a game like this? Late? I had to call timeout. We had three guys back. Guess what? No one said, ‘I got him.’ But that’s freshmen.”
After Kentucky lost 65-61 Tuesday, Calipari said more than once that his team must work on late-game execution.
UK scored only twice in the final 3:40. In an apparent called play 12 seconds after a timeout, Kevin Knox took a high-low pass from Sacha Killeya-Jones and made a layup.
UK’s only basket in the final 1:53 was a Killeya-Jones put-back with eight seconds left.
Calipari lamented one-handed rebounds that were not secured and one-handed catches fumbled away down the stretch.
UK fans will recall that the Cats struggled in the final minutes against Vermont on Sunday.
Calipari acknowledged he and his players must learn what works and doesn’t work in late-game situations.
“Let’s see who can make a shot,” he said. “Let’s see who can make a free throw. You can only learn about your team in a game like this.”
Kansas won when Malik Newman, a third-year sophomore, and Devonté Graham, a senior, each made two free throws in the final 17 seconds.
“I’ve just got to figure out how do we play with four minutes to go,” Calipari said. “What’s the team? Who do I have on the floor? . . . Do I go small? I don’t know.
“This is going to be a process of hit and miss, see what we like. When it works, we’ll all know that’s what they should be doing.”
Calipari suggested this moment will not come soon.
“We have so much teaching (to do),” he said. “The thought of what I have to do and what our staff has to do is kind of tiring to me. Like I don’t want to think about it.”
In addition to scoring eight points (his most in a UK game since last Dec. 11), Killeya-Jones had career highs in rebounds (nine), blocks (three) and minutes (23).
“I was just fighting,” he said. “Trying to help my team win, and do the things I could do to ... just give us the best chance to be in a winning situation.”
Knox cited hard work for Killeya-Jones’ breakout.
“In practice, he’s been working his butt off,” Knox said. “Hitting that mid-range shot he hit tonight. He’s been hitting that consistently now in practice.”
Quote of the night
Calipari on his freshmen learning to execute instinctively: “I’m trying to get them to think less and play more, and just worry about competing.”
For those keeping count, Kentucky came into the game with 2,239 victories. Kansas, which is second on the all-time list, improved its total to 2,219.
Kentucky (17) and Kansas (14) have combined for 31 Final Four appearances.
Kansas has 60 conference championships, including the last 13 Big 12 titles. Kentucky has the second-most conference championships, having won the SEC 48 times.
Kansas and the John Wooden-coached UCLA dynasty are tied for the most consecutive conference championships with 13 each. UK’s best streak is nine straight (1944-52).
The Champions Classic included eight players named to a top 50 list of “early front-runners” for the Wooden Award, which will go to the 2018 Player of the Year, a news release said.
UK’s Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Knox were among the six players who played in the doubleheader. Others were a trio from Duke (Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley III and Trevon Duval), plus Devonté Graham and Malik Newman (Kansas).
Diallo and Knox have also been named to Player of the Year lists compiled by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and the Atlanta Tipoff Club.
Other SEC players who made the Wooden list were KeVaughn Allen (Florida), Yante Maten (Georgia), Michael Porter Jr., (Missouri), Collin Sexton (Alabama) and Robert Williams (Texas A&M).
Louisville’s Deng Adel also made the Wooden list.
In addition to late-game execution, Calipari mentioned three other areas in need of improvement.
He lamented the 18 turnovers, six by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. “Most of them were, like, not forced turnovers,” he said. “It was us trying to make a hard play, which freshmen do.”
He said UK was better from the perimeter than the 3-for-13 shooting suggested. He said Knox must learn to shoot the three when he receives a pass from the inside, and drive when the pass comes from the perimeter.
▪ Kentucky’s record in the Champions Classic fell to 4-3. Duke improved to 4-3 by beating Michigan State in the first game. The Spartans fell to 3-4, which is also Kansas’ record.
▪ Calipari came into the game needing two more victories to reach 700 in his coaching career.
▪ Self got the one victory he needed to tie Roy Williams for the second-most as a Kansas coach at 418. Phog Allen has the most with 590.