No. 10 Kansas got 14 points from Perry Ellis and 13 from Jamari Traylor off the bench as the Jayhawks knocked off No. 13 Utah, 63-60, in Kansas City on Saturday afternoon.
And while it’s yet another quality win on the Kansas resume — they’ve now beaten Florida, Michigan State and won at Georgetown — it wasn’t exactly a resounding victory. The Jayhawks looked terrific in the first half. Their defense smothered everything the Utes tried to do, creating opportunities in transition and tiring out Utah’s legs by the end of the half.
But as good as they were in the first 20 minutes, Kansas was that bad in the final 20. They saw a 42-21 lead evaporate in the span of 15 minutes, falling behind 55-53 as Delon Wright did whatever he wanted offensively. At that same time, Kansas completely forgot how to run an offense, with every possession turning into a forced one-on-one move early in the shot clock.
The Jayhawks won yet again despite playing nothing close to a complete game. We’ve been over that with you already, though, which is why the story of this game, to me, is Utah.
Wright finished with 23 points, five assists, four boards, four steals and this dunk. He was clearly the best player on the floor and his ability to break down the Kansas defense off the dribble in the second half is why they were able to make that comeback. Jakob Poeltl, who finished with nine points and 11 boards, is the perfect big man to pair with Wright, as he’s one of the most aggressive offensive rebounders in the country and really good when it comes to the pick-and-roll.
Throw in role players like Brandon Taylor, Dakarai Tucker and Brekkot Chapman, and you’re looking at a pretty good basketball team.
And keep in mind, Utah is currently playing without Jordan Loveridge, who was averaging 11.5 points this season.
This Utah team is really, really good. If taking Kansas to the wire in what was a de facto home game isn’t proof enough of that, would beating Wichita State at home or BYU on the road be enough? What about giving San Diego State everything they can handle in Viejas Arena, one of the toughest home courts in the country?
Last season, the Utes played a horrific non-conference schedule, struggled to close out close games in Pac-12 play and ultimately lost in the NCAA tournament. This year, they’re 2-2 in their close, tough non-conference games, and while that’s not ideal, it’s worlds better than beating Division III teams by 80.
Utah won’t be happy about losing this game, but these are learning experiences that will make the Utes better in February.
And that is the benefit of challenging yourself during November and December.