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What we learned from Kentucky basketball's second consecutive loss vs. Kansas

Louisville Courier-Journal logo Louisville Courier-Journal 12/2/2020 Jon Hale, Louisville Courier Journal
Why John Calipari is telling Kentucky basketball players to 'unpack their bags'
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Two days were not enough to fix the issues on display in Kentucky's Sunday loss to Richmond.

The No. 9 Wildcats fell to 1-2 with a 65-62 loss to No. 5 Kansas in the Champions Classic after a second consecutive dreadful offensive performance. The loss moved Kentucky to below .500 after multiple games for the first time in John Calipari's 12 seasons as coach.

a man playing a game of basketball: Dec 1, 2020; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Christian Braun (2) dunks the ball over Kentucky Wildcats forward Isaiah Jackson (23) and guard Terrence Clarke (5) in the first half at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. © Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2020; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Christian Braun (2) dunks the ball over Kentucky Wildcats forward Isaiah Jackson (23) and guard Terrence Clarke (5) in the first half at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Kentucky led by as many as 13 points in the first half and held Kansas to just 29.9% shooting, but struggled to find any offensive rhythm in the second half. 

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Kansas took the lead for good with a Ochai Agbaji with 2:45 remaining. UK guard Davion Mintz missed a 3 with five second remaining that could have tied the game.

Here is a closer look at what we learned from the loss:

Offensive concerns grow

Remember when John Calipari said he had both hands and feet on the panic button after Kentucky's final preseason scrimmage?

Those comments were dismissed as exaggeration after the season-opening win over Morehead State, but the last two games have offered a clear glimpse at what may have concerned Calipari so much in that scrimmage.

With Olivier Sarr battling foul trouble for most of the game, Kentucky struggled to find any offensive rhythm. The Wildcats missed 10 consecutive shots at one point in the second half and finished the game at just 36.1% from the field. Despite holding Kansas scoreless for almost seven minutes in the first half, Kentucky was unable to more than 13 points because of its own offensive struggles.

"You have to know what keeps you from losing before you can win," Calipari said. "We don’t know it yet because we’re still not playing for ourselves."

More: Can Devin Askew end Kentucky basketball's West Coast recruiting slump?

Kentucky hit just 3 of 21 3-point attempts. After missing all 10 of its 3s in Sunday's loss to Richmond, UK is now just 3 for 31 from beyond the arc in the last two games.

UK totaled eight assists with 16 turnovers in the loss. Eight of the turnovers came from point guards Devin Askew and Mintz.

Isaiah Jackson cashing in on hype

The near universal answer when a Kentucky player or coach asked was asked before the season who was impressing in practice was freshman forward Isaiah Jackson.

Three games into the season, it is clear why Jackson has suddenly joined Brandon Boston and Terrence Clarke on the list of projected one-and-done players from Kentucky's 2020 class. 

Against Kansas, Jackson just missed a triple-double with seven points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks. He already looks like the type of rim protector Kentucky has lacked since Willie Cauley-Stein left after the 2014-15 season.

Like most of his teammates, Jackson remains a work in progress on offense. He hit 3 of 7 shots Tuesday, but his jump shot is improving and he should be a constant threat as a catcher of lobs.

Kentucky desperately needs Keion Brooks' experience and savvy, but the sophomore forward is no longer guaranteed the starting four spot when he returns from a leg injury. Jackson has looked like Kentucky's best player at times in the first three games. It will be difficult to keep him off the floor even when Brooks is back.

Olivier Sarr: Richmond loss can be learning moment for you Kentucky basketball team

Jacob Toppin stakes claim for minutes

Due to Sarr's foul trouble and struggles from freshmen Lance Ware and Cam'Ron Fletcher, Calipari was desperate for contributions from a forward to pair with Jackson in the second half.

He turned to Rhode Island transfer Jacob Toppin, who played just 11 minutes in the first two games, and was rewarded with a burst of energy that helped Kentucky regain its lead.

With Kansas leading by four midway through the second half, Toppin stopped the bleeding with a put-back jumper. Two possessions later, Toppin tied the game with a fast-break layup. He later gave Kentucky the lead at 46-45 with two free throws.

Toppin took one ill-advised 3 down the stretch, but he was far from alone in making that mistake.

Calipari said Monday he does not expect Brooks back for two to three more weeks, so Kentucky needs to find other contributors in the post rotation beyond Sarr and Jackson. Toppin was not expected to be a regular contributor this season, but his performance against Kansas suggest he will be given more opportunities to prove he is more than a piece for the future.

Earlier: With Keion Brooks out for 2-3 more weeks, UK's inexperience to be tested again vs. Kansas

Email Jon Hale at jahale@courier-journal.com; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: What we learned from Kentucky basketball's second consecutive loss vs. Kansas

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