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Frank Mason propels No. 2 Kansas past No. 4 Kentucky

By Darrell Bird, The Sports Xchange
Frank Mason propels No. 2 Kansas past No. 4 Kentucky
University of Kansas' Frank Mason (0). Photo by John Sommers II/UPI. | License Photo

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- In a battle of college basketball blue bloods, No. 2 Kansas rallied from a double-digit first-half deficit to defeat No. 4 Kentucky 79-73 Saturday at Rupp Arena.

"It's very satisfying to win," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "Tonight it was amped up but our guys like playing in this. If we could play in an atmosphere like this every game, every player would love this, home or away."

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Senior guard Frank Mason III had 21 points and freshman guard Josh Jackson, the No. 1-rated player in the Class of 2017, added 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Jayhawks (19-2, 7-1 Big 12). Senior center Landen Lucas scored 13 and junior guard Devonte' Graham added 12.

Kentucky (17-4, 7-1 SEC) received 18 points apiece from freshman guard Malik Monk and senior forward Derek Willis and 10 points from both freshman guard De'Aaron Fox and freshman forward Bam Adebayo.

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"We got out-toughed and we didn't guard the way we need to guard, which is all curable," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "They shot 60 percent in the second half, you're not going to win."

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Kansas used an 11-0 run over a 2:42 stretch late in the game to blow out to a 69-59 lead. It was the Jayhawks' largest lead as they made 5-of-6 shots during that stretch while Kentucky went 3:40 without scoring a point.

Kansas shot 58.8 percent in the second half and finished at 50 percent (32-of-64). Kentucky shot 47.2 percent.

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Kentucky lost the game after grabbing the early advantage. The Wildcats raced to a 20-10 lead on the strength of an 11-2 run midway through the first half. Monk had nine of the 11 points. He had made all four of his shots up to that point.

Kentucky's lead was as many as 12 points late in the half, but Kansas roared back to make it a five-point game, 32-27, at halftime as the Wildcats went the final 3:40 without a field goal down the stretch. The Jayhawks had a 7-1 run to close the half.

"Oh, I thought this could get real ugly, real fast," Self said. "We didn't shoot it all and we played tight and they had all the momentum. The key part of the game for us was the last five minutes to get it to five at halftime."

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"If you look at it, we had like three turnovers. It's similar to what we have done in every game," Calipari said. "And the turnovers led to a basket, not earned basket, they're breakaways."

Kentucky shot 42.9 percent in the first half, including 37.5 from 3-point range. Monk topped the Wildcats with 12 points, hitting 5-of-7 shots. Derek Willis came off the bench for seven points. The Wildcats led the rebounding battle 21-15, but committed 10 turnovers.

Kansas shot 40 percent, but missed all eight 3-point tries. Jackson was tops with 10 points.

"This is always a process here when you're talking young players," Calipari said. "I can remember in 2014, we were dying and then they got it at one point and all of a sudden we took off. This team came together a little bit faster, yet you find out all the execution stuff that I've been talking about will come back and haunt you. As a coach, you look at this and say, 'OK, where do we go and what do we zero in on? And I think it's toughness and defense."

Though he is happy with the victory, Self didn't put too much emphasis on beating Kentucky in a non-conference game on Jan. 28.

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"I told our team this prepping for the game, 'This is an important game but it's not as important as our game on Wednesday, it's not as important as our game last Tuesday.'" Self said. "It's kind of like when you go to an AAU tournament. It's kind of like the showcase game. There's a showcase game and you win or lose, it's no big deal. It doesn't affect the bracket.' That's kind of what I thought about this game."

NOTES: With Saturday's victory, Kansas now has 2,005 all-time victories, second most in NCAA history to Kentucky at 2,222 ... Under coach John Calipari, Kentucky is now 9-8 when facing a top-five ranked team ... Saturday's game marked the first time since Dec. 31, 2011, that two teams ranked in the top five met at Rupp Arena.

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