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No. 1 Kentucky crushes Kansas

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INDIANAPOLIS — Bill Self walked into the interview room and took a long pull from a water bottle.

“I was hoping it was vodka,” the Kansas coach cracked.

Couldn’t blame him, not after Kentucky put his No. 5 Jayhawks through a night that would make most any coach want to imbibe in some strong libations.

Completely shutting down anything Kansas tried to do, the No. 1 Wildcats turned the nightcap of the Champions Classic into a two-hour pep rally for their large contingent of fans in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, routing the Jayhawks 72-40 on Tuesday.

Twelve players scored for Kentucky, led by center Dakari Johnson’s 11 points. Guard Andrew Harrison added 10, including an acrobatic three-point play in the lane with 11:40 left that upped an already formidable lead to 53-35.

Of course, the Wildcats (3-0) could have taken shot clock violations by then and still had enough to win. Their defense recorded as many blocked shots as field goals allowed to Kansas — 11. Freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns and sophomore forward Marcus Lee each rejected four.

Kansas (1-1) managed just three field goals in the second half, finishing the game at a putrid 19.6 percent from the field.

“We made it hard to score,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari, who became the 13th active coach to win 600 games. “The guys really covered for each other. It helps when you have big guys like Willie (Cauley-Stein) and Marcus that can guard guards.”

Cauley-Stein, the 7-0 junior forward who surprised most people by coming back for a third year in Lexington, supplied seven points, 10 rebounds and a blocked shot. He also altered shots and made the Jayhawks turn down others.

“They were terrific,” Self said of the Wildcats. “They cover up mistakes as well as any team I’ve ever seen. We never once did anything that resembled a team on offense, but I hope they were the primary reason.”

Guard Wayne Selden scored nine points to pace Kansas, which actually got within hailing distance at halftime with an 11-3 run to end the first half. With freshman guard Kelly Oubre scoring six points in less than a minute, the Jayhawks went into intermission down 38-28.

But Kentucky held the Jayhawks scoreless for the first 5:21 of the second half, essentially ending the game’s competitive phase. Walk-ons dotted the floor for both teams in the endgame as the Wildcats’ two-platoon system got a rest.

Some have wondered whether Calipari can make that substitution style last a whole season, citing the team’s occasional inability to gain a rhythm on offense with changing faces. But the coach is committed to running five-man units in and out every four or five minutes.

“The coach is telling us to trust it,” Cauley-Stein said. “We’re winning and everyone has the same stats, so everyone’s happy.”

“We love it,” Towns said. “It gives everyone a fair chance to play. We can go hard all the time.”

For his part, Calipari concedes his side has much to work on offensively. He knows at some point, they might run into a team that can throw up an effective pack-line defense, forcing Kentucky to hit jumpers.

But he likes the most obvious part of his two-platoon plan.

“The other guy has two teams to prepare for,” Calipari said.

NOTES: Kentucky and Kansas are the two winningest programs in Division I history, with the Wildcats at 2,143 victories and the Jayhawks at 2,127. … Kansas’ season-opening win over UC Santa Barbara was its 42nd straight in a home opener. … Kentucky gave up just four field goals in the second half of its 71-52 win Sunday over Buffalo, tying the fewest in a half under coach John Calipari.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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