UK Men's Basketball

Perfect 10: Top-ranked Kentucky crushes No. 5 Kansas, 72-40

Kentucky Wildcats forward Marcus Lee (00) blocked the shot of Kansas Jayhawks forward Landen Lucas (33)  as #1 Kentucky defeated #5 Kansas 72-40 on Tuesday November 18, 2014  in Indianapolis, IN. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats forward Marcus Lee (00) blocked the shot of Kansas Jayhawks forward Landen Lucas (33) as #1 Kentucky defeated #5 Kansas 72-40 on Tuesday November 18, 2014 in Indianapolis, IN. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

INDIANAPOLIS — ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg called the State Farm Champions Classic "a fact-finding mission."

Kentucky's 72-40 smashing of Kansas later Tuesday simply validated a well-established bit of information: Kentucky is good, maybe good on a historic scale.

As if to reassure Coach John Calipari, who questioned the effort in a come-from-behind victory over Buffalo Sunday, the Cats outplayed Kansas from tip-off to final buzzer.

"We have reinforcements," Calipari said of UK's platoons. "It's like tanks coming over the hill."

It was the second-largest margin of victory for Kentucky in the on-again, off-again series between the two winningest college basketball programs. Only a 100-63 UK victory in Louisville in 1975 was larger.

The worst defeat in Bill Self's 12 seasons as Kansas coach (eclipsing a 25-point loss to Texas in 2006) may have surprised, among others, Dick Vitale.

Before the game, Vitale suggested it might be the kind of possession-by-possession adversity Calipari said his team needed.

"You know what's great about this?" he said of the starry doubleheader (Duke beat Michigan State in the opener). "It eliminates the cupcakes."

Kentucky made Kansas look like a cupcake right from the start.

In the State Farm Champions Classic last year, Kentucky opened the game as if it had called Jake from State Farm at 3 o'clock that morning. The sluggish Cats fell behind Michigan State 14-0, a deficit that could not be overcome.

Against Kansas, the Cats came out alert, active and eager to take the initiative. Kentucky blocked three shots before the first television timeout.

Kansas clearly planned to go at Kentucky's strength by driving to the basket. Either that or the Jayhawks were delusional. Kansas made only four of its first 24 shots.

Self tried to stem the tide by calling three timeouts in the first half. Only the third seemed to halt Kentucky's tidal wave of momentum.

The first two Self timeouts came within a 37-second span. He called the first with 10:01 left after Willie Cauley-Stein beat former high school rival Perry Ellis for a layup off an inbounds pass. That put UK ahead 19-9 and highlighted an inconsequential first half for Ellis, the Jayhawks' leader (one-of-six shooting and four points).

The next Self timeout came at the 9:24 mark. It followed UK rebounding its own missed free throw and cashing in with a Cauley-Stein dunk.

After a sloppy Kansas turnover, Aaron Harrison hit a three-pointer to put the Cats ahead 24-9. That was the same UK lead that caused concern in the opener against Grand Canyon last week. No such worries this time.

The blowout stalled after Self's third timeout, this time with 3:01 left and UK holding its largest first-half lead at 35-17.

A three-pointer by Wayne Selden Jr. seemed to steady Kansas. Freshman Kelly Oubre, a McDonald's All-American, finally hit his first two shots. Suddenly, and surprisingly, Kansas got within single digits at 37-28.

After a UK timeout, the Cats went to Dakari Johnson in the post. Fouled on a shot attempt, he made one free throw with 4.3 seconds left to set the halftime score. Johnson led UK with 11 points. Twelve Cats scored.

Apparently not lulled into complacency by the opening 20 minutes, UK opened the second half crisply. Johnson got the half off to a good start with a post-up basket. Then Trey Lyles hit a pullup jumper.

A sequence before the first television timeout of the second half showed how intent Kentucky remained. After Marcus Lee badly missed two free throws (the first barely grazed the rim), he chased down the rebound. The Cats cashed in the bonus possession as Johnson found Lee for a dunk. That put UK ahead 44-28 with 16:51 left.

Later, Andrew Harrison scored on a drive despite being met at the rim by two McDonald's All-Americans: Ellis and Cliff Alexander. The three-point play put UK ahead 53-35 with 12 minutes left. That matched the Cats' largest lead to that point.

Not that anyone would complain, but the rout denied Kentucky a chance to explore what Greenberg said was a key unknown: Finding the clutch performers in the final minutes of a close game.

"If I'm John, who are you giving the ball to?" Greenberg said. "We know Aaron (Harrison) can make that shot. But who are you going to give the ball to at the end of a game? Who is the guy who's going to get us something?

"And I think that's what they have to develop. Who's going to be on the court when you're closing out games? That's going to be John's challenge. That's going to be what he has to do in the next three months."

Greenberg saw the time between semesters as the time to make such determinations. Using the nickname Calipari favors for that time of the season, he said, "I guarantee you at Camp Cal, that's going to be the focal point."

No need for that against Kansas.

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