CHICAGO — A classic, this was, in name only.
Still, a win is a win, and shorthanded Kansas will take it.
The No. 4-ranked Jayhawks survived sloppy play and poor shooting to down No. 7 Kentucky, 65-61, on Tuesday night at United Center. KU shot 35.3 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from 3-point range in the second contest of a Champions Classic that far from lived up to the annual series’ name.
Malik Newman struggled throughout the entire evening but made his last shot and last two free-throw attempts, both huge for the Jayhawks (2-0). Newman’s 3-pointer — set up by a Lagerald Vick offensive rebound on his own miss — gave KU a 61-57 lead with just over two minutes to play, and Newman’s two makes from the charity stripe with 17 seconds left gave KU a four-point edge (63-59).
Newman, who shot the ball with about 25 seconds on the shot clock, said there was no hesitation in letting it go.
“I was open, it felt good, it looked good to me. Why not take it?” Newman said. “Put the icing on the cake.”
Newman called Vick’s offensive rebound — the junior guard kicked it out to Svi Mykhailiuk, who made the extra pass to the open Newman — a “big-boy play.”
“It was a man play,” Newman said. “Aggressive Lagerald, we knew he had it in him. It was a big-time play.”
Devonte’ Graham iced it with a pair of free throws with 7.1 seconds left, but it wasn’t a banner night for either member of KU’s backcourt duo. Newman finished 4-for-14 shooting with 12 points, while Graham ended up 3 for 14 on field-goal attempts for 11 points.
Mykhailiuk’s 17 points on 7-for-18 shooting paces the Jayhawks, and Udoka Azubuike’s 5-for-5 shooting effort and 13 points rounded out the team’s double-digit scorers in the nip-and-tuck affair, which saw Kentucky last lead,43-42, with just over 13 minutes to play.
Wildcat forward Kevin Knox led all scorers with 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting but missed a would-be game-tying jumper with 17 seconds left that led to Newman’s offensive rebound and free-throw conversions.
The Jayhawks took a one-point lead into the break despite eight turnovers, a 4-for-15 shooting performance from 3-point range and a 1-for-9 shooting finish to end the half.
The difference early came on the offensive glass for KU, which out-rebounded the Wildcats in that category 15-1 and had held a 15-2 advantage in second-chance points in the first half. Kentucky, which went scoreless in the period’s final 2:14, did record six blocks and six steals and, after falling behind 18-7 on the heels of an 11-0 run by the Jayhawks, clawed back to outscore KU, 26-16, the rest of the frame.
A Wenyen Gabriel free throw gave the Wildcats their only lead of the first half, 33-32, but a Newman layup on the ensuing possession gave the Jayhawks their halftime edge. Both Newman and Graham were 3-for-10 shooting for KU in the first half.
The teams finished the game locked at 39-all in rebounds, while the Wildcats (2-1) committed 18 turnovers to the Jayhawks’ 11.
The victory was Self’s 418th at KU, tying him with his predecessor Roy Williams for second all-time on the program’s win list. It also moved the Jayhawks to 3-4 in the Champions Classic, an event that’s outcome carries little weight come tournament selection time, Self said.
“I don’t think the Champions Classic, the outcome of this, has anything to do with how successful your season is,” Self said. “It’s one of those deals that’s all-win, no-lose. … I think what this game does early in the season — if you can stand to watch it, because I know it wasn’t pretty — I know what this game does is it obviously gives you confidence but it makes you more aware of who you are, and I think that’s always good.”
The Jayhawks were playing without freshman forward Billy Preston, who is out indefinitely as KU administrators look into a car he was driving during a single-vehicle accident Saturday on campus. Without Preston, KU was down to Azubuike and sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot.
Azubuike played a career-high 34 minutes, while Lightfoot only appeared for six minutes.
“It was a great, grind-it-out win,” Self said. “We dealt with some stuff today and certainly we basically played six guys. To be able to pull that off when we were totally gassed, I’m really proud of our team.”