CHICAGO (AP) — Kansas coach Bill Self delivered a relatively simple pitch to Hunter Dickinson.
He told the big man he would get the ball a lot.
He told him he would get to play with some great players, and have a chance to win a national championship.
“I think he’s been truthful so far,” Dickinson said.
So far, so good.
Dickinson had 27 points and 21 rebounds, and the top-ranked Jayhawks outlasted No. 17 Kentucky for an 89-84 victory in the Champions Classic on Tuesday night.
The 7-foot-2 Dickinson, who announced in May that he was transferring from Michigan to Kansas, went 8 for 12 from the field and 10 for 11 at the line.
The young Wildcats — playing without a pair of injured centers — fought hard inside, but Dickinson was just too much to handle.
“What he does is he takes pressure off everybody else by having everybody else focused on him,” Self said. “So that’s a big bonus.”
Dajuan Harris Jr. scored 23 points for the Jayhawks, which trailed by as many as 14 in the second half.
Kevin McCullar Jr. had 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the third triple-double in the history of the program.
Kansas (3-0) closed the game with an 11-1 run.
Harris opened the decisive stretch with a 3-pointer and two foul shots.
Dickinson then put the Jayhawks in front with two free throws that made it 85-83 with 2:04 to go.
Kentucky (2-1) had a couple chances to tie the game in the final 1:02, but came up empty each time.
After Reed Sheppard missed a three with six seconds left, Jamari McDowell made two foul shots to help close it out for Kansas.
Antonio Reeves scored 24 points for Kentucky, but he went 3 for 17 from 3-point range.
Adou Thiero finished with 16 points and 13 boards.
“It feels good to have this type of performance, but when you don’t walk away with a W it doesn’t really feel the same,” Thiero said.
Rob Dillingham, part of another stellar freshman class at Kentucky, scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half.
He was whistled for his fourth foul midway through the second half and eventually fouled out.
“To come in this environment with this, you know, everything that goes with this, the bells and whistles, and they perform like they did, I couldn’t ask for much more other than make some free throws and a shot down the stretch and win,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
It was Kansas’ first game in Chicago since it stopped in the Windy City on its way to the 2022 NCAA championship.
The Jayhawks beat Miami 76-50 in the Midwest Region final at the United Center that year.
Kansas had a 25-21 lead before Dillingham began to take over.
The flashy guard made 3-pointers on four straight Kentucky possessions, and then dished to Reeves for another 3 — giving the Wildcats a 36-30 lead with 4:37 left in the first half.
The Jayhawks were staring at a double-digit halftime deficit before Dickinson hit two foul shots and a 3, making it 48-41 at the break.
Dickinson had 13 points and 10 rebounds in the first half.
Kansas: While Dickinson had a big night, it’s clear the Jayhawks have some work to do when it comes to getting used to each other. They finished with 14 turnovers, and a couple of them occurred when they tried to force the ball inside to their new center.
Kentucky: It was the first big test for the new kids on the Wildcats, and there was a lot to like. They had just eight turnovers. If Calipari can teach them how to finish close games, they could be in line for a big season.
Kentucky: Hosted Stonehill on Friday night