Kentucky-Kansas Preview

BY foxsports • January 29, 2016

(AP) - Kentucky against Kansas on the hallowed hardwood of Allen Fieldhouse.

Need anything more be said?

The matchup between two of college basketball's bluest blue-bloods Saturday night headlines the Big 12-SEC Challenge, a series of intriguing matchups that includes Texas A&M-Iowa State and Oklahoma-LSU.

The game between the fourth-ranked Jayhawks and No. 20 Wildcats, the two winningest programs in Division I history, is easily the highlight of the day. They've combined for more than 4,300 victories, 104 league titles, 31 trips to the Final Four and 13 national championships.

''You can remove the 16,000 people and play shirts and skins,'' Jayhawks coach Bill Self said, ''and it's still Kansas and Kentucky. They're still going to be fired up to play.''

The schools have met 28 times, with the Wildcats winning the last three. That includes the 2012 national title game, when Kentucky coach John Calipari got the better of Self in New Orleans.

It's the most recent matchup that's likely to be fresh in the minds of the Jayhawks, however. Ranked No. 1 for the second straight meeting, Kentucky hammered then-No. 5 Kansas 72-40 on Nov. 18, 2014, in the Jayhawks' lowest-scoring effort since Self took over as coach in 2003-04.

Beyond wins and losses, there are other ties that bind the schools.

Kentucky (16-4) plays in Rupp Arena, named after Kansas native Adolph Rupp - a former Jayhawks star under Phog Allen, the namesake of Allen Fieldhouse. And Calipari was an aspiring young assistant under Larry Brown at Kansas (16-4) from 1982-85, while Self was an assistant to Brown from 1985-86.

''I look back fondly,'' Calipari said of his time in Lawrence, where he met his wife Ellen. ''I had nothing except - I had a Plymouth Arrow. No worries. It was a great time for me. Can you imagine being 22, 23 and your first opportunity to be around a program was at Kansas?''

Probably like having an opportunity at Kentucky.

''It's another game,'' Wildcats guard Tyler Ulis said, ''but obviously it's a big game because you've got two big-time programs coming against each other. And the way we played against them last year, they're going to be coming at us and want some get-back and we've got to be prepared.''

Kentucky has certainly looked that way since a 75-70 loss at Auburn on Jan. 16, winning three in a row while limiting opponents to 59.0 points per game. The Wildcats rolled past Missouri 88-54 on Wednesday.

''We are playing desperate now,'' Calipari said. ''We are playing with an attitude. Refuse to lose.''

The Wildcats have shot at least 50.0 percent five times in the past eight games. Ulis scored 20 against the Tigers and has hit that mark seven times in nine contests.

Kansas, in contrast, is hardly playing its best basketball coming into Saturday. The Jayhawks have alternated losses and victories in five games since winning 13 in a row and are coming off an 85-72 defeat at No. 14 Iowa State on Monday.

Their last three losses, though, have come on the road, and they'll be looking to extend their home win streak to 37. Kansas has beaten 13 ranked teams in that span.

Regardless of venue, however, those three losses - all by double digits - have exposed some cracks in a team that became a popular Final Four choice after its triple-overtime victory over then-No. 2 Oklahoma on Jan. 4.

Self thinks the problem could involve a lack of vocal, passionate leadership.

''If you really studied our team, we have some emotionless-type personalities,'' he said, mentioning as examples arguably his three best players in Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis and Frank Mason III.

''Those guys don't exert energy from an emotional standpoint. It doesn't mean they don't play hard, but sometimes those things are contagious and run through their team. It's an ongoing issue.''

So is erratic play. Kansas committed 22 turnovers in a loss to then-No. 11 West Virginia on Jan. 12 and had 16 in falling to the Cyclones. In the three games in between, it totaled 27.

Of course, the Allen Fieldhouse crowd along with Kentucky's recently rediscovered swagger could be just what the Jayhawks need to light a fire under them.

''It couldn't come at a better time,'' forward Landen Lucas said. ''It gets our focus off the league race. We can just go out there and play, and being at home helps. A game at home always helps. I know everybody will be ready to play.''

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