It took all 40 minutes for No. 1 Kansas to escape a spirited effort from No. 17 Kentucky on Tuesday night in a thrilling Champions Classic game in Chicago.
Despite trailing by as many as 14 points in the second half, head coach Bill Self and the Jayhawks used a monster performance from transfer portal pickup Hunter Dickinson, along with some savvy late-game execution, to see off the Wildcats 89-84.
Dickinson — who transferred to Kansas over Kentucky, among other suitors, this offseason from Michigan — had a generational stat line of 27 points and 21 rebounds in the win. According to ESPN, Dickinson is the first player with a 20-point, 20-rebound performance against UK in the last 25 seasons.
His 21 rebounds were the most boards by a UK opponent since Florida’s Andrew DeClercq in January 1994.
The Jayhawks also got a triple-double from Kevin McCullar Jr. (12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists) in the win, which came despite UK holding a 31-4 advantage in bench points. The Wildcats also attempted 17 more shots from the field than the Jayhawks, but Kansas made 47% of its shot attempts.
Here’s everything Self (who is now 9-6 in his career against UK) said after Kansas outlasted Kentucky for the victory:
Q. You said Hunter, a game like tonight, how does that change your team?
I think the way they guarded us, they put KJ (Adams Jr.’s) man all around him, so he didn’t get as many opportunities I don’t think at the basket that we wanted to get him and he only shot a couple, what did he shoot, one long ball or two?
But he’s a good player, man. He rebounded the ball better. He’s a terrific passer. What he does, I mean, whether — he’s not a villain, but what he does is he takes pressure off everybody else by having everybody else focused on him. So that’s a big bonus.
Q. I wonder about KJ’s impact in the second half there. Especially using his athleticism when you guys got running?
I thought KJ was great. We never guarded them, but it was a makeshift lineup we’re trying to play Hunter on one of their perimeter players and put KJ on the switch 4. It actually worked good, except we never switched up and they shot the ball behind the handoffs or whatnot or too many straight-line drives. But I thought KJ was great. Other than his missing free throw, I thought he was terrific.
Kevin didn’t have a statistically a great game, but you look up, he gets a triple-double and I think that’s only the second one we’ve had since I’ve been here. So he’s tough and Hunter was great. And of course (Dajuan Harris Jr.), he was the best player in the game down the stretch without question.
Q. Not seeing a lot of (John) Calipari teams play five out and take 38 threes in a game with these guards that he has what was your impressions of stylistically how they played?
We thought that they would spread us and drive us and they spread us and drove us. We got to get better at guarding the ball or it won’t always end up very good. I like their team. To me they’re hard to guard with Tre (Mitchell) playing the 5. They’re hard to guard if he’s playing the 5. But when they get (Aaron) Bradshaw back or their other guys, other bigs, that’s going to be a hard team to deal with. Cal’s got a really good bunch.
Q. You talked about on Monday how the season really started today. What did you learn about this team obviously with this big comeback and coming back in a game like this?
I don’t know that you learn this much this fast, but I thought we showed some poise late. We screwed up the game to go from winning 72-70 to down 78-72. Then I think we outscored ‘em 17-6 to end it. We made all the right plays late offensively. I thought it was terrific. Really somebody that helped us that won’t be talked about was Jamari McDowell, he at least guarded (Antonio) Reeves well. I thought he did a really nice job.
Q. What gave you the confidence to put in Jamari for those key minutes for the first time tonight?
To be honest with you, I don’t know it was so much confidence to put him in, I didn’t know who else to put in. It was kind of one of those deals. No, he was terrific. He was good in that limited time. He was plus-9 in 3 1/2 minutes. So that was pretty good.
Q. With someone like Hunter who from opening tip seems like he’s getting booed every time he touches ball, he’s not just responding to it, he’s kind of playing back and forth with the crowd. What does that do in the huddle and in the locker room?
I don’t think it does much, to be honest with you. It may do something for him. I don’t think we get fired up by how people treat Hunter good or bad. But I thought, you know, let’s call it like it is, he catches some crap. Sometimes with good reason and many times with not. He catches some crap, but one thing he does, he doesn’t run from it ever.
So I think guys like that give teams confidence. Now, granted, when he left, I don’t know, did he talk to the media? And he was I’m sure deflecting, deflecting, deflecting and praising teammates and all that. The whole deal, I mean, most of the stuff that you guys remember about Hunt, 95 percent of it are things that happened before he got to Kansas. So he’s been really good since he’s been here.
Q. With kind of what his past has been, how do you integrate that into a locker room with so many returning guys on a veteran team?
Our guys want to win. They don’t care. I mean they don’t care. If a guy pumps confidence into your locker room, that’s a win. So our guys don’t worry about that stuff.
Q. I wanted to ask you about KJ when you brought Hunter in was he relieved to be able to not have to play there?
Q. So what does he have to do now to continue to ascend as playing ...
You guys watched us play tonight. The court looked pretty crowded a lot of times. I think one thing that has to happen we got to have some guys make some shots. We made ‘em the first two games, but it was a little different competition and different setting, obviously. I think that the thing that he can do in his own way is become a better short role guy and play Hunter away from the basket, things like that. So we got to figure out how to play him like we played him last year with Hunter in the game. I think that’s a big key for us.