With the two winningest programs in the history of college basketball meeting at Allen Fieldhouse, the expectation was that No. 20 Kentucky and No. 4 Kansas would put forth a good show. The two teams more than lived up to the expectations, but ultimately it was the play of Kansas junior guard Wayne Selden Jr. that made the difference.
Selden scored a career-high 33 points, shooting 12-for-20 from the field, to lead the Jayhawks to a 90-84 overtime victory.
Kansas managed to come back in spite of some subpar foul shooting, as they shot just 30-for-47 from the foul line for the game. In the second half, as the Jayhawks looked to cut into a Kentucky lead that grew to as much as eight points, Bill Self’s team made a habit of splitting trips to the foul line. But as Kentucky’s big men battled foul trouble and freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe cramps, the Jayhawks were able to mount a rally to grab the lead.
The spark was Selden, a gifted off guard who far too often seems to blend into the action as opposed to using his talents to assert himself. That wasn’t an issue against the Wildcats, as Selden was in attack mode from the start. That took its toll on Kentucky defensively, with Selden scoring Kansas’ next ten points after Kentucky took an eight-point lead with 13:54 remaining.
Kentucky played well, with point guard Tyler Ulis scoring 26 points and dishing out eight assists to lead the way. Kentucky’s a much-improved team over the last two weeks, and a big reason for that has been the play and intangibles supplied by Ulis. Coaches want leaders to emerge over the course of a season, and not only has Ulis done that but he’s also managed to take his teammates along with him.
The front court still need to be more consistent moving forward, but the progress shown by this group was evident even in defeat. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they didn’t have enough left in the tank to slow down Selden and the Jayhawks as they made their run.
Selden’s production not only applied pressure to Kentucky’s defense in the second half but it also gave his teammates the confidence needed to make plays themselves. That’s the kind of player he can be, and it’s what makes his periods of simply blending into the action so frustrating.
Kansas has talent, depth and experience, all of which was on display at various points in Saturday’s win. But if Bill Self’s team is to not only extend its streak of consecutive Big 12 regular season titles to 12 but also play deep into March, they need Selden to consistently be the “take charge” offensive option he was against Kentucky.
With the offense Kansas runs he doesn’t have to look for 25 shots a night, and the system wouldn’t work as well if he did to that level. But an aggressive Wayne Selden Jr. opens things up for the other Jayhawks, making them an even tougher team to defend as a result.