Keldon Johnson, No. 8 Kentucky Beat Dedric Lawson, No. 9 Kansas 71-63
Kentucky's Reid Travis (22) shoots while pressured by Kansas' Dedric Lawson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

James Crisp/Associated Press

The No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats defeated the No. 9 Kansas Jayhawks 71-63 as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, on Saturday.

Kentucky improved to 16-3 with the win, while Kansas fell to 16-4.

Both teams struggled mightily from the field in a game that was largely a defensive battle.

Kentucky shot just 39.1 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from long range, while Kansas shot 36.5 percent overall and 39.1 percent from beyond the arc.

Senior forward Reid Travis was dominant at times for Kentucky despite the Wildcats’ overall lack of shooting success. He finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, and was difficult for Kansas to handle in the paint during the first half especially, as he racked up four and-1 baskets:

Sophomore forward PJ Washington also performed well for Kentucky with a 20-point, 13-rebound double-double.

Freshman guard Keldon Johnson added 15 points and 10 boards for the Wildcats.

Kansas relied heavily on junior forward Dedric Lawson, who registered 20 points and 15 rebounds, and didn’t receive much help from his supporting cast.

Lawson had 11 points and 11 rebounds in the first half alone, which is primarily why the Jayhawks led 33-30 at the break:

Kansas led by as much as 10 in the opening half, but Kentucky seized momentum by scoring the final four points of the half inside the last minute. The Wildcats quickly seized a two-point lead early in the second half on a Johnson trifecta, and as the second half neared its midway point, Kentucky had taken control with an eight-point lead.

With the Kentucky defense locking down Kansas the rest of the way, the Jayhawks couldn’t mount a comeback, resulting in their second loss in the past three games.

           

Lawson Needs More Scoring Help for Kansas to Compete for National Title

With Udoka Azubuike out for the rest of the season because of a hand injury, it became clear Saturday that Kansas head coach Bill Self needs someone to fill that void.

Lawson was strong as usual, but his supporting cast was lacking, as only Quentin Grimes and Lagerald Vick scored in double figures besides him, with 13 and 10 points, respectively.

As ESPN’s Myron Medcalf noted, Lawson would benefit greatly from another strong post player:

Lawson once had that with Azubuike, but Kansas is going with a four-guard lineup out of necessity.

That can give the Jayhawks an advantage over some teams, but it didn’t work against Kentucky, which boasts a pair of skilled forwards in Travis and Washington.

Per Bleacher Report’s David Gardner, too much shooting volume fell on Lawson’s shoulders Saturday, especially during the first half:

He went just 7-of-18 from the field, but there was pressure on him to keep putting the ball up because of his teammates’ struggles.

Kentucky and its head coach, John Calipari, were well aware of Lawson’s importance to the Jayhawks late in the game. According to Medcalf, the Wildcats attacked Lawson and the basket regularly in an attempt to get him to foul out:

He finished with four fouls and had to be careful of disqualification, which may have impacted his play down the stretch.

If other others don’t eventually score more, Kansas likely won’t challenge for a national title.

          

Three-Point Shooting Woes Will Prevent Kentucky from Reaching Elite Status

Kentucky has a few talented shooters, but Saturday’s win masked potential three-point-shooting deficiencies.

The Wildcats made just four of 18 attempts from downtown and have struggled at times in that regard at other points this season. Kentucky is just 114th in the nation with a three-point shooting percentage of 35.7, and its 110 made trifectas rank just 329th out of 353 teams.

As Kent Spencer of WHAS pointed out, Kentucky would have done virtually nothing from beyond the arc Saturday if not for Johnson, who went 3-of-4 from deep:

Johnson can’t always be counted on to bail out the Wildcats, though.

According to Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports, Johnson tends to run hot and cold, which applies to the Wildcats as a whole:

Tyler Herro is usually one of Kentucky’s best shooters, but he went 0-of-4 from long range and finished with a mere six points, while Washington missed all four of his three-point attempts.

The manner in which Travis and Washington dominated down low rendered the three-point shooting moot against Kansas, but it is tough to go far without strong outside shooting.

Kentucky’s overall talent and athleticism will push it to victory on most nights, but when the opponents get tougher come tournament time, the Wildcats may not have enough shooting to go all the way. 

             

What’s Next?

Kentucky will return to SEC play on Tuesday when it travels to take on the struggling Vanderbilt Commodores, who are winless in conference competition.

Kansas will also resume its conference schedule with a Big 12 road clash against the Texas Longhorns on Tuesday night.

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