Heading into Tuesday night's Champions Classic in Chicago, No. 17 Kentucky was a clear underdog, facing top-ranked Kansas. The Jayhawks had more size and more experience than the young, talented but shorthanded Cats.
But Kentucky fought Kansas to the very end of Tuesday's game before the Jayhawks prevailed, winning 89-84.
Chicago native Antonio Reeves had 24 points for the Cats, while freshman Rob Dillingham had 18. Sophomore Adou Thiero had career highs in both points (16) and rebounds (13). Freshman Reed Sheppard had 13 points and four steals.
Kansas jumped out to an early 11-3 lead but Kentucky responded. The Cats scored eight in a row, including six by Mitchell, to tie the game at 11-11. Kansas responded by scoring five straight before a pair of Sheppard threes gave the Cats a 17-16 advantage.
Kansas would score five in a row to lead 21-17 and the Jayhawks would lead 25-21 before Kentucky started a three-point barrage. Dillingham hit four three-pointers in a row to turn a four-point deficit into a 33-30 lead. And when Reeves hit another three, the Cats led by six and Kansas was forced to call a timeout.
The Jayhawks cut the UK lead to 37-34 before Thiero scored six in a row to make it 43-34 with 2:25 left in the first half. That was the start of an 11-2 run that gave Kentucky a 48-36 lead with 37 seconds left in the half. UK would take a 48-41 lead into the break behind 16 first half points from Dillingham.
Kentucky would score the first five points of the second half to lead 53-41. Kansas cut it to nine, 53-44, before Reeves hit a three and a layup to give UK it's biggest lead, 58-44. But the Cats went cold, making just one of seven from the floor, just as Kansas got hot. The Jayhawks made five shots in a row, and seven of nine, going on a 16-2 run to take a 65-62 lead with 10:53 remaining.
The Cats would not go away as Reeves hit a three to tie the game at 65-65 and Sheppard knocked down a pair of free throws to give UK a 67-65 lead. Kansas answered with the next five points to lead 70-67 before Sheppard knocked down another three to tie it at 70-70 with 8:36 to play.
Kentucky took a 71-70 lead on a Thiero free throw with 7:18 to play. Kansas took the lead back on a KJ Adams layup before Thiero converted a putback to make it 73-72 Cats. After a KU turnover, Reeves made a fast break layup, then added a free throw for a three point play to give UK a 76-72 advantage with 6:03 remaining.
Adams missed two free throws for Kansas and Kentucky extended the lead to 78-72 on a driving layup by Sheppard. Kansas cut it to 78-75 before UK got a free throw from Tre Mitchell and two from Reeves to lead 81-75. But Kansas responded with an 10-2 run to take an 85-83 lead with 2:04 left.
A Mitchell free throw cut the KU lead to 85-84 with 1:33 remaining but Kansas got a Hunter Dickinson basket with 1:13 to play to lead by three.
Reeves had a pair of three pointers that could have tied the game with about one minute left in the game but neither would drop. After Kentucky got a defensive stop, the Cats were unable to get a good look at the basket and Kansas got the rebound. The Jayhawks converted a pair of free throws with five seconds left to provide the final margin of victory.
Dickinson had 27 points and 23 rebounds to lead Kansas.
Kentucky returns to action on Friday night, hosting Stonehill at Rupp Arena. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on SEC Network Plus.
Walter Cornett, of Glendale, Kentucky, is the owner and operator of Walter's Wildcat World. He founded WildcatWorld.com in 1998 making it one of the oldest Kentucky basketball fan sites in operation today.
On This Day In UK Basketball History
- On December 10, 1951, Bob Burrow collected 34 rebounds against Temple for the most rebounds ever in a single game by a Kentucky player.
- On December 10, 1977, as top-ranked UK is defeating Kansas on “Adolph Rupp Night” in Allen Field House on Naismith Drive in Lawrence, Kansas, Rupp dies. Thousands would participate in the funeral procession in Lexington.
- On December 10, 2011, Indiana's Christian Watford hits a 3-pointer at the buzzer in Assembly Hall to stun No. 1 Kentucky. It's only the second time Indiana had beaten a top-ranked team at Assembly Hall.