INDIANAPOLIS – Kansas forward Jalen Wilson waited a whole year for a night like Tuesday.
His celebration came in almost total silence.
Wilson scored 21 of his career-high 23 points in the second half, made the first two 3-pointers of his career during the key stretch and posted his first double-double to help No. 7 Kansas get past No. 20 Kentucky 65-62 in the Champions Classic.
“My team needed me to step up even though I had a slow first half, and the second half turned out to be a really good half," the redshirt freshman said. “I always practice those (3-point) shots. I have confidence in me, my team has confidence in me and it felt really good."
And the Jayhawks (2-1) needed everything Wilson could muster in an ugly, disjointed game.
Wilson was 8 of 16 from the field — the only player on either team with a shooting percentage of 50% or better. He had a season-best 10 rebounds. Ochai Agbaji added 17 points for Kansas, and Christian Braun had eight points and 13 rebounds.
Kentucky (1-2) was led by Brandon Boston Jr. and Davion Mintz, who each scored 12. Mintz had a chance to tie it with five seconds to go but his 3-pointer was off the mark and Kansas grabbed the rebound.
“They’ve got to go through this, it's all part of the growth of this," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "They punked us. We couldn’t even bring in the ball."
What was supposed to be one of this season's showcase games between college basketball's two winningest programs devolved quickly into sloppy play, full of turnovers, missed shots and blown opportunities. With no fans or even cardboard cutouts, and the only noise being piped-in music during timeouts, the lack of intensity was palpable throughout the game.
“It didn't have the feel at all of a game," Kansas coach Bill Self said. “It had the feel of a scrimmage."
And it showed.
Kansas shot 30% from the field and missed three of four free throws during one stretch in the final minute when it could have sealed the win.
Kentucky shot 36% but blew an early double-digit lead and gave away a 35-29 halftime edge when the Jayhawks started the second half on a 10-3 run to grab a 39-38 lead with 12:46 left.
But the offensive woes prevented either team from taking control until Agbaji broke a 55-all tie with a rare 3-pointer at the 2:43 mark. His dunk on the next possession finally gave Kansas some breathing room and Kentucky never recovered.
Kentucky: After last weekend's surprising home loss to Richmond, the Wildcats needed to get back on track. It looked as though they might for a half. But even a win Sunday against Georgia Tech in Atlanta might not be enough to keep them in the Top 25 after this game.
Kansas: The Jayhawks scored 184 points in their first two games — but you wouldn't have known it by the way they shot the ball Tuesday. Kansas missed 13 of its first 15 attempts and scored just five points in the first 10 minutes. Somehow, though, they head home on a two-game winning streak with a chance to make it four straight before facing No. 9 Creighton.
Kansas guard Marcus Garrett played 35 minutes despite feeling ill the last four days.
Self said Garrett was suffering from headaches, was bothered by bright lights, had an upset stomach and was struggling to catch his breath. While Self said Garrett was given PCR tests for COVID-19 on Friday and Tuesday and both came back negative, the coach didn't expect Garrett to suit up and even explained he didn't need to play.
Garrett played anyway.
“Hopefully we’ll get him back, get him to the doctors and figure out what's going on, get him on the right meds and get him better," Self said.
HE SAID IT
“It was embarrassing, but that’s what we need to learn," Calipari said of missing the rebound in the final minute. “Olivier (Sarr)? A breakout, you’re going to foul? What? It’s not football, it’s not a touchdown. Let him shoot a layup, we’ll score in three seconds."
Kentucky heads to a familiar locale, Atlanta, to face Georgia Tech on Sunday.
Kansas plays the first of five straight home games Thursday against Washburn.
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