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How Kentucky and No. 9 Kansas match up — with a game prediction

Lexington Herald-Leader logo Lexington Herald-Leader 1/26/2023 Mark Story, Lexington Herald-Leader
Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe (34) had 17 points, 14 rebounds and four steals in UK’s 80-62 demolition of Kansas last season at Allen Fieldhouse. The No. 9 Jayhawks will be in Rupp Arena on Saturday night to face the Wildcats in the final SEC/Big 12 Challenge. © Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe (34) had 17 points, 14 rebounds and four steals in UK’s 80-62 demolition of Kansas last season at Allen Fieldhouse. The No. 9 Jayhawks will be in Rupp Arena on Saturday night to face the Wildcats in the final SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

How the Kentucky Wildcats (14-6, 5-3 SEC) and the No. 9 Kansas Jayhawks (16-4, 5-3 Big 12) match up at each position for Saturday’s men’s college basketball game in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center:

Small forward

▪ Kentucky freshman forward Chris Livingston (5.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg) has struggled with his shot in SEC play. Against Southeastern Conference opponents, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound freshman from Akron, Ohio, has made only 11 of 37 field-goal attempts. With the production of Antonio Reeves mandating more playing time, Livingston has seen his minutes decrease from 24 a game in the three-contest stretch of Louisville, LSU and at Alabama to 15.6 a game in the past five games. It will be interesting to see if John Calipari follows through on finding Livingston more clock as a small-ball four man.

▪ Kansas redshirt senior Kevin McCullar (10.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.5 steals, 43% FGs, 29% treys) comes to Lexington off a double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds, with four assists and two steals) in the Jayhawks’ 75-69 loss at Baylor on Monday night. A 6-6, 210-pound San Antonio product, McCullar is a transfer from Texas Tech. McCullar will also enter Rupp Arena having missed his last 11 three-point attempts. McCullar has not a made a trey in a game since going 2-of-4 in a 76-62 win at West Virginia on Jan. 7.

Advantage: Kansas.

Power forward

▪ Kentucky’s Jacob Toppin (11 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 44% FGs, 23% treys, 66% FTs) was terrific in UK’s 69-53 win at Vanderbilt on Tuesday night. The 6-9, 205-pound senior had a double-double, 12 points and 10 rebounds, and made six of seven shots while also dishing out two assists and blocking two shots. The Brooklyn, N.Y., product has recently been consistently good in Rupp Arena. Over Kentucky’s past four home games, Toppin has averaged 18.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists while making 58 percent of his shots (29 of 50) and 50 percent of his three-pointers (2 of 4).

▪ As a redshirt junior, Jalen Wilson (21.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 43% FGs, 34% treys, 78% FTs) has broken out as the Kansas star. The 6-8, 225-pound product of Denton, Texas, has scored in double figures in all 20 KU games to date and has been at 20 points or above 11 times. During the Jayhawks’ current three-game losing skid, Wilson has averaged 30.3 ppg and has made 33 of 62 shots. In UK’s 80-62 win over Kansas in Lawrence last season, Wilson had eight points and eight rebounds.

Advantage: Kansas.


▪ Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe (16.6 ppg, 13.9 rpg, 1.6 steals, 58% FGs, 67% FTs) is the reigning SEC Player of the Week after he averaged 22 points and 20.5 rebounds in last week’s victories over Georgia and Texas A&M. In Tuesday night’s victory over Vanderbilt, the 6-9, 255-pound product of the Democratic Republic of Congo had 15 points, 13 rebounds and two assists, the 40th points-rebounds double-double in 52 games in Tshiebwe’s remarkable Kentucky career. In last season’s win at Kansas, Tshiebwe had one of his double-doubles — 17 points and 14 rebounds, and also had four steals.

▪ Kansas sophomore KJ Adams (10.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 63% FGs, 61% FTs) had scored in double figures in 11 straight games until being held to four points in each of KU’s last two games, the loss at Baylor and the stunning 83-60 shellacking that TCU put on the Jayhawks last Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse. An Austin, Texas, product, Adams played 11 minutes against Kentucky last year and had four points on 2-of-2 field-goal shooting.

Advantage: Kentucky.

Shooting guard

▪ Since moving back into the starting lineup four games ago, Kentucky redshirt senior CJ Fredrick (8.2 ppg, 29 assists vs. 8 turnovers, 40% FGs, 35% treys, 90% FTs) has averaged 9.5 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists. The general consensus is that the expanded role for the 6-3, 185-pound Covington Catholic product has helped Kentucky with ball movement and offensive spacing. In the two seasons Fredrick played at Iowa before transferring to UK, he shot 47.9 percent on field-goal tries, 46.6 on three-pointers — so there’s every reason to expect his shooting percentages to rise as the season progresses.

▪ A homegrown product of Wichita, Kansas, freshman Gradey Dick (14.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 45% FGs, 44% treys, 83% FTs) has had a strong, if up and down, season. The 6-8, 205-pounder poured in 24 points in Monday’s loss at Baylor and was efficient in doing so, making eight of 13 shots. Before the trip to Waco, Dick had been in a bit of a shooting funk, making only three of 16 three-point attempts combined in losses at Kansas State and to TCU.

Advantage: Kansas.

Point guard

▪ Kentucky freshman Cason Wallace (11.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.9 steals, 46% FGs, 40% treys, 60% FTs) has directed UK to four straight victories since assuming the primary point-guard role before the Wildcats faced then-No. 5 Tennessee in Knoxville. Over those four games, Wallace has averaged 9.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists. After going scoreless in the 63-56 upset of UT, Wallace has scored 17, 11 and 10 points respectively in the three games since.

▪ Kansas redshirt junior Dajuan Harris (7.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 6.5 apg, 1.9 steals, 45% FGs, 42% treys) is the epitome of a “winning player.” The 6-1, 175-pound product of Columbia, Mo., and forward Jalen Wilson are the only returning starters back from KU’s 2022 NCAA title team. Harris has struggled with his shooting in KU’s past four games, making only two of 18 shots, one of eight three-point tries. In last season’s loss to UK, Harris made three of six shots and had six points and four assists in 27 minutes.

Advantage: Kentucky.


▪ Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves (12.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 42% FGs, 40% treys, 80% FTs) has emerged as UK’s go-to perimeter scorer over the past six games. The 6-5, 205-pound senior, a transfer from Illinois State, has averaged 16.8 points in that span and made 36 of 78 shots, including clutch buckets down the stretch in UK wins at Tennessee and over Texas A&M. ... Deposed for now as UK’s starting point guard, Sahvir Wheeler (8.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 5.8 apg, 41% FGs, 38% treys, 53% FTs) gave Kentucky a lift off the bench and had four points and five assists in 22 minutes in the win at Vandy. The 5-9, 180-pound senior had seven points and eight assists in UK’s win at KU last season. ... Junior big man Lance Ware (2.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 63% FGs, 35% FTs) is counted on to bring energy and physicality.

▪ Kansas has not gotten big production off its bench. A transfer from Drake, 6-foot, 180-pound junior guard Joseph Yusufu (3.4 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 37% FGs, 29% treys) had a big outing (14 points) in KU’s 64-50, early-season loss to Tennessee. ... Sophomore guard Bobby Pettiford (3 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 2 apg, 57% FGs, 33% treys) is a one-time Louisville recruiting commit. ... A 6-11, 250-pound freshman, Ernest Udeh (1.9 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 65% FGs) is potentially five extra fouls to throw at Oscar Tshiebwe.

Advantage: Kentucky.

Intangibles and history

Kentucky leads the all-time series with Kansas 24-10 but the Jayhawks have won four of the past six meetings.

▪ As UK head man, John Calipari is 5-4 vs. the Jayhawks.

Kansas Coach Bill Self is 7-5 vs. UK as KU head man and 7-6 against the Wildcats overall.

▪ Kansas is 5-4 all-time in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, while Kentucky is 5-3 (the Wildcats did not play in the Challenge in 2020-21).

▪ The Wildcats and Jayhawks are 2-2 against each other in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

▪ The game should feature a fully engaged “big game Rupp Arena” crowd — and there aren’t a lot better home environments than that.

Advantage: Kentucky.


Kentucky 75, Kansas 73.

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