LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — So much for all that worry over No. 9 Kansas falling toward a low point under Bill Self.
Especially given the Jayhawks’ cool, poised response to several gut checks against fellow basketball royalty.
Jalen Wilson scored 22 points, including one in a series of huge 3-pointers down the stretch, and Kansas held off Kentucky 77-68 on Saturday night in an SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
“We had some good, short runs and kept them from going on like a 10-2 run,” Self said. “We kept them out of transition and off the glass.”
The Jayhawks (17-4) seized the lead for good midway through the first half before withstanding every Wildcats challenge in this tense marquee matchup of college basketball bluebloods.
Gradey Dick and Wilson provided two of their biggest shots with consecutive 3-pointers for two-possession edges, with Wilson’s 3 making it 70-64 with 4:13 remaining.
Oscar Tshiebwe made two free throws to get Kentucky to within four, but Kevin McCullar Jr. sank another 3 for a 73-66 advantage.
Wilson then answered Jacob Toppin’s jumper with one of his own to make it 75-68 with 1:52 left.
Kansas, which won the national championship last season, avoided its first four-game losing streak under Self.
Not to mention, avenging a blowout home loss to Kentucky a year ago.
“We didn’t think about it like that,” Wilson said about Kansas’ recent losses to No. 5 Kansas State, No. 11 TCU and No 17 Baylor.
“It was three games against three really good opponents like tonight. It was important to get the train going again. It was important knowing what they did to us on our home court last year,” Wilson said.
Tshiebwe had 18 points and nine rebounds, and Toppin and Cason Wallace each added 14 for Kentucky (14-7), which had won its previous four.
The Wildcats certainly had their chances despite shooting 2 of 13 from long range and starting off 4 of 11 from the free-throw line.
They seemed to have grabbed momentum when Antonio Reeves hit two free throws, and Toppin followed a jumper to twice get within a basket.
Dick, Wilson and McCullar then followed with 3s to snatch it away for good.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “They deserved to win the game. They hit three 3s, and you have to do that to win games like that.”
Wilson made 9 of 18 from the field and grabbed eight rebounds for Kansas, which finished even with Kentucky at 49-perecent shooting.
K.J. Adams Jr. added 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting, Dick had 13 despite making just 4-of-11, and McCullar added 11 with 12 rebounds as the Jayhawks edged Kentucky 34-29 on the glass.
That included limiting Kentucky to just four offensive rebounds while shutting out the Wildcats 11-0 in second-chance points.
“We were physical, but not physical enough,” Toppin said. “Every game we won, we dominated on the boards and we didn’t do that tonight.”
TOUGH ROAD AHEAD
Kansas certainly needed this win with more league challenges ahead in the next week.
After facing K-State, the Jayhawks play No. 12 Iowa State, No. 10 Texas and Oklahoma, which blew out No. 2 Alabama 93-69 in its Challenge matchup.
It also puts their slump in context.
“Our league is such a monster,” Self added. “Our next three games are top-10, top-10, top-10, so it doesn’t get any easier.”
Kansas: The Jayhawks were outshot by Kentucky much of the night but consistently made crucial baskets and big defensive plays to keep an edge. It was just what they needed after their slide amid a seven-game Big 12 gauntlet featuring five ranked teams.
Kentucky: Poor first-half free-throw shooting dug another hole that the Wildcats managed to overcome. They got close, but couldn’t get even, and finishing 16 of 23 from the line ultimately hurt them even with making all 12 attempts after halftime.
Kentucky visits Mississippi on Tuesday night in search of its fifth consecutive SEC win.