Madison Square Garden was the place to be in the Big Apple Tuesday night. Kicking off the first annual Champions Classic was Duke winning over Michigan State, giving Coach K the all-time wins with a career total of 903. The capper of the night was No. 11 Kansas and No. 2 Kentucky. After a speedy but competitive first half, the second half belonged to the Wildcats, who turned it into a dunk-fest, walking away with 75-65 win.
For those who wondered how Kansas would play in such an early test in the 2011-12 season, the Jayhawks had to leave fans feeling positive with how they started-jumping out to 10-3 lead-but for those who question KU's depth, their overall talent and ability to hang with the top-ranked teams, the second half may have been a sobering wake-up call as to how much work they have to do.
Senior Tyshawn Taylor led the way for Kansas with 22 points, 15 coming from the free throw line, while All American candidate Thomas Robinson recorded 11 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.
Kentucky had all five starters in double figures, led by guard Doron Lamb with 17 points, most of which came in the second half as he and his young and talented teammates began hitting three-pointers and throwing down highlight-reel dunks.
Freshman forward Anthony Davis had 14 points and six blocks, making it nearly impossible for the Jayhawks to score around the basket.
After going up 10-3 in the first half, the Jayhawks used excellent man-to-man defense to keep Kentucky out of rhythm and out of their offense, which is typically the now famous dribble-drive and more free-style offense designed for the type of athletes head coach John Calipari constantly brings into his program.
Every time the Jayhawks would drive to the basket, a Kentucky player was there to turn it away. In all, Kentucky had 11 blocks in the game.
John Calipari loves his teams' length but knows they have a long way to go before they can live up to the hype. He also wanted to test his young big men against a legit and talented post-up player, which is why he had Davis on Robinson, as well as helping with the double-team. Terrence Jones said their mental adjustment at the half was the reason for their big finish.
"We just listened to coach and wanted to come out and play better, improve on the things we didn't do well in the first half and get some easy dunks, easy baskets.
Calipari knows he has plenty of talent, but also knows and is very adamant that his team needs a lot of work to be the team most believe they are.
"We have a lot of really talented players, but like I told my guys, we don't compete against each other, we compete against the other team. We don't compete against each other, we complete each other. We challenge each other, we push each other, but we don't compete against each other."
Adding, "did it look like they were even coached in the first half?"
The battle between KU's Robinson and Kentucky's Terrence Jones wasn't quite the focal point of the night, but both players ended up with a solid game. Jones had 15 points and 7 rebounds on the night but was never able to dominate in the low post, particularly in the first half against the three big men of Kansas in Robinson, Justin Wesley, and center Jeff Withey.
Robinson, who played a sub-par game overall, was still productive, but couldn't quite stay patient enough to keep within the flow of the offense, often forcing the issue trying to make plays on his own.
"I didn't think he handled it well at all," said Self after the game. "Thomas, you know this was his first time too [starting in a big game], but I thought he tried to do too much on his own instead of staying a little patient and getting an extra down, letting himself get a better angle."
Withey, who may have played his best game as a Jayhawk, was a key figure in KU's first half performance which had the game tied at the half.
Bill Self spoke about his 7-footer, calling Withey, "the best player in the first half."
"Jeff [Withey] isn't going to be a big numbers guy, but I thought he was really good in the first half."
When talking about his leading scorer, Tyshawn Taylor, Self said he was pleased with his point guards' effort, but didn't think it was his best performance overall.
"Tyshawn tried really hard. He's the only one who has really played in a big boy game and I thought he tried really hard and competed, but he didn't play great."
Taylor is in fact the only player to really have any extensive experience in a big time setting, as even Thomas Robinson was playing his first big time game as a starter. Self knows his team has plenty of room to grow, and if he can get them to execute and continue to stay sound and stick with their fundamentals, the Jayhawks should be a solid team by winter break.