NEW YORK (AP) — High-flying freshmen, perimeter shooters, size and speed at nearly every position. Kentucky has all the ingredients to become a big winner this season — if the young Wildcats learn how to play unselfish ball from the opening tip.
Doron Lamb scored 17 points, Terrence Jones had 15 and No. 2 Kentucky raced to a decisive spurt at the start of the second half, passing an early-season test with a 75-65 victory over No. 12 Kansas on Tuesday night in a matchup between the two winningest programs in college basketball.
“We don’t believe we have to truly play together yet. It’s not talent that wins, it’s good teams that win,” Wildcats coach John Calipari said. “This is not a good team yet. We’re not bad, but we’re not a good team yet. We’ve got good players, but we broke off every play.”
Anthony Davis added 14 points and seven blocks for the balanced Wildcats (2-0), who trailed for much of the first half in the State Farm Champions Classic. They committed 19 turnovers and looked discombobulated at times, but overcame all that by blocking 13 shots and holding Kansas to 33.9 percent shooting.
Starting three highly touted freshmen, Kentucky gave Calipari his first career win against Kansas, a school that evokes both fond and painful memories for the third-year Wildcats coach.
“We had a big run in the second half that closed the game out. So we’ve got to keep running our system and it will come together soon,” Lamb said. “We’ve got a lot of scorers on this team, a lot of weapons on this team.”
Tyshawn Taylor, who grew up just across the Hudson River in New Jersey, scored 22 points to lead the Jayhawks (1-1). Thomas Robinson added 11 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out with 3:31 to go.
On almost any other night, a matchup between these two basketball blue bloods at Madison Square Garden would be the headline act. After all, the last time the two elite coaches squared off, Bill Self led Kansas to a comeback victory over Calipari and Memphis in the 2008 national title game.
But this one was overshadowed by the doubleheader opener, when Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski earned his 903rd career win with a 74-69 victory over Michigan State. With that win, Krzyzewski broke the Division I record held by former mentor Bob Knight, who sat on the other side of the court at the ESPN broadcast table.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 12 points and a team-high nine rebounds for Kentucky. Fellow freshman Marquis Teague also scored 12.
“I really thought that they played a lot better offensively obviously in the second half, and they made shots,” Self said. “But their best offense for a long period of time was our offense. Our bad shots and turnovers led to run-outs and dunks and easy baskets that you’re going to have a hard time defending. So I really think that we helped them, but they were also a lot better in the second half than the first half.”
Calipari improved to 1-3 against Kansas, where he began his coaching career as a volunteer assistant in 1982.
Of course, his most wrenching loss to the Jayhawks came with Memphis in the 2008 NCAA championship game, when Derrick Rose and the Tigers blew a big lead late in regulation and lost 75-68 in overtime.
Still looking for his first national title, Calipari took Kentucky to the round of eight in 2010 and then the Final Four last season. The Wildcats haven’t won it all since 1998, but this year’s edition has an enviable mix of new talent and tournament experience that makes it a legitimate contender.
“Really, really, really talented one through seven. Two or three games in, they’re going to be really, really good once they get more practice and more reps,” Taylor said. “A lot of the guys are young still. I think they’re going to be amazing.”
With the score tied at 30 a minute into the second half, the Wildcats busted loose for an 11-0 run. Jones flashed a fierce stare right at a television camera following a thunderous dunk. Teague broke into a big grin after a 3-pointer from the left side, then added a floater to give Kentucky a 41-30 lead with about 15:30 remaining.
Two free throws by Taylor — he was 15 for 17 at the line and 3 of 13 from the field — stopped the spurt, but Teague had a dunk and Lamb hit consecutive 3s. Moments after an airball, Lamb nailed another 3 to make it 54-37 with 10:05 to play.
“I think we made a good statement today,” said Lamb, who grew up in New York. “I was a little nervous. I’m nervous before every game, though. But I settled down in the second half and let the game come to me. I just made shots for my team.”
Lamb received a big hand from the boisterous Kentucky fans when he came out for a breather, and Darius Miller followed his teammate’s lead with a 3-pointer of his own.
Kansas didn’t get within single digits again until there were 29 seconds to go. Calipari came out onto the court to lead his players away when there was a brief scuffle on the baseline with 6:11 left.
“You want to talk, but you talk to your team. And I had to grab a couple of the guys. Again, they’re young. They don’t know better. They think they’re in Orlando and they’ve got another game tomorrow morning another one tomorrow afternoon. And so now they’re talking to the other team. Can’t do it here,” Calipari said.
“But they had a will to win. That’s what I wanted to see. That’s the hardest thing to teach in what we do, a will to win. This team seems to have that.”
Kentucky boasts the most wins in Division I with 2,054, while Kansas is second with 2,038.
The Wildcats lead the series 20-6 — the last meeting came in the second round of the 2007 NCAA tournament, when top-seeded Kansas won 88-76 in Chicago for its third consecutive victory over Kentucky.
Now that the Wildcats have stopped that mini-streak, there are more tests ahead.
“We’re going to have to learn our own way this year,” Jones said.
No. 2 KENTUCKY 75,
No. 12 KANSAS 65
Robinson 5-12 1-2 11, Releford 2-6 0-0 4, Withey 3-4 1-2 7, Taylor 3-13 15-17 22, Johnson 3-11 1-2 8, Tharpe 0-4 0-0 0, Teahan 3-7 0-0 8, Wesley 1-1 3-4 5, Young 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-59 21-27 65.
Jones 6-11 2-2 15, Kidd-Gilchrist 4-9 3-5 12, Davis 6-8 2-6 14, Lamb 4-8 6-8 17, Teague 4-9 3-7 12, Miller 2-5 0-1 5, Vargas 0-1 0-0 0, Wiltjer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-51 16-29 75.
Halftime—Tied 28-28. 3-Point Goals—Kansas 4-15 (Teahan 2-5, Taylor 1-2, Johnson 1-4, Tharpe 0-2, Releford 0-2), Kentucky 7-15 (Lamb 3-5, Teague 1-1, Jones 1-2, Kidd-Gilchrist 1-3, Miller 1-3, Davis 0-1). Fouled Out—Robinson. Rebounds—Kansas 39 (Robinson 12), Kentucky 34 (Kidd-Gilchrist 9). Assists—Kansas 9 (Johnson 4), Kentucky 14 (Kidd-Gilchrist, Miller 4). Total Fouls—Kansas 25, Kentucky 20. A—19,979.