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History practically seeps from the walls – they literally rolled out Naismith’s original rules of the game at halftime – and the 16,000-plus people who packed inside this terror dome known as “The Phog” roared from tip to buzzer.
Kentucky and Kansas played a classic regular season college basketball game, people, a down-to-the-wire battle between the two winningest programs in the sport. The atmosphere inside the packed Allen Fieldhouse was tremendous and ridiculous, and at times comparable to the inside of a jet engine.
The Kansas fans brought their zealotry A-game. They turned The Phog into a Phurnace, with piped-in sound system and human screams both turned to 11. This was an immersion in oppressive noise.
For all of us, it was 40 minutes — nope, sorry, 45 — of uncommonly entertaining basketball between two of the greatest programs in NCAA history in the finest venue the college game has to offer.
Kansas guard Wayne Selden took a pass on the perimeter, got his shoulders by Tyler Ulis, then took it right at Skal Labissiere. The future lottery pick got part of the ball. He didn’t get enough.
Selden threw in the one-handed slam with his right hand, energizing the crowd on his best night as a Jayhawk.
The 6-foot-5 junior scored a career-best 33 points on 12-for-20 shooting, lifting No. 4 KU to a 90-84 overtime victory over 20th-ranked Kentucky on Saturday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
“That’s probably as good a game as he’s played since he’s been here,” KU coach Bill Self said. “That was like Wayne in Korea. He was great.”
…Early in the second half, the 13th-year coach finally got desperate, smart or both. He motioned “C” from the sideline — his call for “combo” defense — to signal his team to play a triangle-and-two defense. After not practicing the set for 2-3 weeks, he’d worked with his guys for 5-7 minutes each day in practice after the Iowa State game Monday.
“It basically bailed us out, because we had such a hard time guarding the ball,” Self said. “We still didn’t do it right, but we did it well enough that it disrupted their rhythm.”
The switch-up was effective because of UK’s personnel. Not only do the Wildcats struggle to make 3s — putting in one of 13 long-range shots after halftime — but have a guard in Isaiah Briscoe who is hesitant to shoot open jumpshots.
“We just sagged off of him,” Devonte’ Graham said, “and had help in the middle of the floor.”
Wayne Selden, Jr.’s grandfather, who introduced the Kansas University junior guard to the sport of basketball when he was 5, hadn’t seen Wayne play a game for the Jayhawks ... until Saturday night, that is.
“It was big incentive for me to play well tonight. I knew I was going to because he was here. That’s my best friend growing up. We’re really, really close,” Selden said after scoring a career-high 33 points while playing 44 minutes in KU’s 90-84 overtime victory over Kentucky in Allen Fieldhouse.
“He was a referee and I always went to basketball games with him. He’s the reason I’m here today,” added Selden, whose vicious drive down the lane and dunk with 3:10 left in OT put KU ahead to stay.
Selden figured he owed it to his grandpa, Anthony Pitts, Sr., to play well, considering the lengths it took Pitts get to the Big 12/SEC Challenge game.
A native of Boston who doesn’t like to fly, Pitts convinced a buddy to hop in the car with him at 7 p.m., Thursday, to make the long drive to Lawrence. The two arrived at 9 p.m., Friday, well in advance of Saturday’s 6 p.m. tip.
“He told me today Wayne better play well. He drove a long way to watch this,” KU coach Bill Self said.
UK head coach John Calipari, a former Kansas assistant, had no shortage of praise for the Jayhawk fans and Allen Fieldhouse atmosphere before the game, and the environment Saturday only reaffirmed that opinion.
“I love the place,” Calipari said. “I love the campus. If you’re a college student and you’re in Midwest, really anywhere, this is a college campus, a college life, student life. The pride they take in his basketball program – Bill (Self) has taken it to another level, but it’s always been here.”
Sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis’ play was able to keep the crowd from reaching full volume for much of the game, but the arena scoreboard reported a noise level topping 117 decibels during pregame introductions.
A halftime ceremony marking the return of James Naismith’s original rules for basketball, which had been purchased by a Kansas fan at auction and donated to the university, only added to the atmosphere.
“It was crazy,” senior forward Alex Poythress said. “Loudest atmosphere I’ve ever been in.”
Unlike many other road losses for UK, Calipari had no fears of fans storming the court despite the exciting nature of the Kansas victory.
“Like at Kentucky if we beat the Lakers at the buzzer at halfcourt, banked it, they would never (rush the court),” Calipari said. “These fans are the same.”
Second half, Kansas started driving the ball to the basket and picking up foul after foul. The final count was Kentucky 33 fouls, Kansas 20. The Jayhawks shot 47 free throws on the night, making 30. UK shot 22 and hit 13.
Kentucky fans will see that as home cooking in a very heated environment. Kansas fans will see that as the determined Jayhawks getting the ball to the basket and forcing the Cats to foul to stop drives.
Where Kansas really won the game was on the boards. The Jayhawks won the glass 42-31. Kentucky managed just six offensive rebounds. At the end of regulation, Kansas came up with a pair of offensive rebounds that killed the Cats’ cause. On one play, Ulis seemed to have the ball secured, only to lose it in a collision. The ball ended up with a Jayhawk kicking it to guard Frank Mason, who drilled the three-pointer for a 69-66 lead.
Ulis got knocked down, said Calipari, “But still, (Mason’s) got to hit that shot.”
Couldn’t you just imagine a corner in heaven on Saturday night where James Naismith, Phog Allen and Adolph Rupp were wrapped up in Kansas’ 90-84 overtime win over Kentucky at Allen Fieldhouse.
Naismith invented the game, which was played in a building with Allen’s name against a team that represents a dynasty overseen by Rupp.
What a night, past and present. Every time these two teams play — and as the two winningest programs in college basketball history shouldn’t they play every year — there’s something different in the air. There’s a distinct feeling that everyone who loves basketball, or has loved it, is paying attention.
Wichita Eagle Lutz
"You know, to me, it's, it's ... not embarrassing by any stretch, but if you have to go to a junk defense in order to be good defensively, then you're not going to last too long," Self said. "So we have to tighten things up. But it is a good change of pace, or change of momentum type thing. And then if you can get a couple of stops, sometimes they get hesitant, and that's kind of what happened a little bit tonight."
The defense calls for two quick defenders to play man-to-man and the other three to play a three-man zone in the shape of a triangle. Frank Mason III and Devonté Graham played man-to-man against Kentucky guards Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray and received help from the three defenders in the triangle.
Self used it because Kentucky's 5-foot-9 Ulis had been shredding KU's defense in an even louder way that even Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans and Iowa State's Monté Morris had in victories against Kansas. Less than two minutes into the second half, Ulis had scored 18 points, made 8 of 10 field goals and had five assists, no turnovers and three steals. Then Kansas switched its defense and Kentucky turned it over on its first possession against it and went on a three-minute scoring drought.
Ulis played all 45 minutes and finished with 26 points, eight assists and three turnovers.
Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse was about the past: the very long ago and the very recent. The winningest program in the history of college basketball, Kentucky, was visiting the second-winningest program, Kansas, and at halftime, Kansas held a ceremony in which the game’s commandments were unveiled at center court of its holiest cathedral.
…Kansas has its problems—its on-ball defense against quick guards is atrocious, its wing and frontcourt rotation is still in flux as we enter February—but it does know how to win in Allen Fieldhouse. Its three-overtime victory over Oklahoma on Jan. 4 is college basketball’s reigning game of the year. Saturday’s win over Kentucky almost had a classic moment, but Frank Mason III’s halfcourt heave at the buzzer in regulation hit the back rim. It will go down instead as a grudge match (with 53 personal fouls) that didn’t live up to Naismith’s nasally proclamation, in the halftime ceremony’s video, that basketball was “a nice, clean game.” It is a sport whose rulebook and athletes have evolved. A sport in which a Kansas guard, in 2016, can ease his mind and revive his reputation by muscling his way toward the basket off the dribble and dunking on somebody’s head.
SI Luke Winn
These were not the usual Goliaths we're used to seeing, and while the game lived up to the hype, it was hard not to leave wondering if those two teams can really get to Houston in April.
And that's a shame. Because parity sucks.
College basketball is at its best when some combination of Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, UCLA, Indiana and North Carolina top the rankings and end up playing in April.
Give me four No. 1 seeds in San Antonio in 2008. Bill Self and John Calipari on the sidelines Monday night, coaching a bunch of future pros.
Hide the women and children when Connecticut and Butler brick their way through a title game.
That, unfortunately, is what we could be headed for this season when the Final Four returns to Houston, the location of that dreadful final back in 2011 between UConn and Butler.
This is the year of "no great teams"—a narrative that Oklahoma might have a legitimate beef with—but it was obvious watching Kansas and Kentucky on Saturday night that this isn't what we're used to seeing from these programs.
…we could be headed for a Final Four with football schools like Oklahoma, Iowa or Texas A&M.
No offense to those programs. Compelling stories. All are fun teams to watch and are legitimately better than Kansas and Kentucky this year.
And that's a damn shame.
BR CJ Moore
Freshman forward Cheick Diallo was the first player off the bench for Kansas — or either team for that matter — entering the game after junior big man Landen Lucas committed an offensive foul.
Diallo played eight minutes in his first stretch on the court, which was actually double what he had played in the team’s last two games. However, it was the other freshman that really left his mark on the game for Kansas.
Freshman forward Carlton Bragg Jr., who accidentally started to say “Kentucky” when announcing his college decision last year, filled right in for senior forward Perry Ellis, who was saddled to the bench with a couple of early fouls. Often one of the most energetic players on the team, Bragg knocked down three shots in the first half, two of which rattled all the way around the basket before finally dropping.
In a tense, stressful atmosphere, it was clear Bragg was just having fun. He had a goofy smile on his face, moving his hands with a sort of “count-it” gesture.
The two freshmen combined for eight points in the firs half, which Self noted was crucial with Ellis out of the game.
“I thought they both played well,” Self said. “With Perry out, [I wondered], ‘How are we going to score inside?’ So Carlton stepped out and made three jumpers.”
…In overtime, it seemed like Kansas had an extra boost of energy that Kentucky lacked, which Selden attributed to the team's experience in close games this year.
“We’ve played games longer than that this year,” Selden said with a smile.
However, after playing 44 minutes against the Wildcats, it made sense that Selden would be tired. In fact, in the postgame press conference, as he reached for a cup of water on the table, he was disappointed to learn it was empty.
After checking the other cup on the table and letting out a pretty big sigh, Chris Theisen, Kansas' assistant athletics director, handed Selden a cup filled with water. Selden took the cup and looked over and nodded, while Graham, who was sitting next to Selden, gave Theisen a point and a wink.
It was a different mood from the last meeting between the two teams, when Self jokingly said he wished the cup on the table was filled with vodka after losing by 32.
Instead, the players were all smiles, although Self was quick to note they couldn't afford to dwell on the win for too long, knowing that the team has to get ready for it's next game against Kansas State.
“The reality of it is, this is just a small step to get us positive momentum to go back to what is really important: conference play,” Self said. “K-State is a rivalry game, and you can't take games for granted.”
1 - Wayne Selden Jr.: His one-handed slam over 6-foot-11 Skal Labissiere, who also wears No. 1 on his jersey, will be played to the delight of Allen Fieldhouse crowds for the rest of his Kansas career. Selden never has been better than he was Saturday. He repeatedly stung Kentucky with drives to the hoop and long three-pointers (3 for 5) on his way to a 33-point night. He played 44 minutes and never looked tired. Not many perimeter players in the country can match his strength.
2 - Perry Ellis: Kentucky executed a sound game plan to perfection against Ellis, limiting his scoring chances. He made 1 of 4 field goals and hit just 8 of 13 free throws. Battled his way to 10 points and nine rebounds, four off the offensive glass.
3 - Jamari Traylor: He doesn’t bring a lot of basketball skills to the equation and he is on the short side for an inside player, but he never is athletically overmatched and he doesn’t shy from contact. Lent a strong defensive effort and chipped in with five points, a block, a steal and five boards, four offensive.
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