Reid Travis and P.J. Washington overwhelmed an undermanned Kansas frontline, combining for 38 points and 25 boards as No. 8 Kentucky overcame a slow start to knock off No. 9 Kansas in Rupp Arena on Saturday, 71-63.
Dedric Lawson finished with 17 points and 14 boards for the No. 9 Jayhawks, but it was nowhere near enough, as a Kansas team missing Udoka Azubuike did not have nearly enough size or strength in the paint to handle Kentucky’s big men.
This win is the latest in a string of impressive victories for the Wildcats, who suddenly have the look of a team that is a very real threat to cut down the nets on March. Last Saturday, they went into Auburn and knocked off the No. 16 Tigers before picking off No. 22 Mississippi State by 21 points on Tuesday. This makes three straight wins over ranked teams and pushes Kentucky’s winning streak to six games; they’ve won nine of their last ten since the overtime loss to Seton Hall.
Perhaps the most important part of this win is the fact that it proves Kentucky can play a style that doesn’t necessarily suit their personnel. Without Azubuike, Kansas has been forced to play small, and for the most part, they’ve done it well. They lost at West Virginia and at Iowa State, but they landed four wins over top 45 KenPom opponents, including Iowa State at home.
The key to this success has been the emergence of Marcus Garrett as a scoring threat. He posted the three highest scoring games of his career in the three games prior to Kansas’ trip to Lexington, and he was the guy that looked like he was destined to be guarded by a bigger defender.
That’s exactly what happened.
And Washington, to his credit, did a magnificent job slowing him down. Garrett finished just 1-for-9 from the floor with four points, four fouls and three turnovers.
Seeing Washington emerge like this is another great sign for the Wildcats. He’s had some impressive moments this season, but Kentucky is at their best when he plays like he is their best player. Consistency has not always been Washington’s forte, but he is capable of taking a game over, especially on the nights when his jumper is falling.
That’s a trend that is starting to become the tie that binds these Kentucky guys together. The last two games have arguably been the two best games that he has played this season. Tyler Herro struggled on Saturday, but he’s found his shooting stroke and scoring touch over the course of the last couple of weeks. Ashton Hagans, as we all know, has turned into the game-changing defensive dynamo he was known as in high school, and with the way he has shot the ball of late, I think it’s clear his offense is further along than we realized. Even the much-maligned Reid Travis has shown up in big spots. He was just as dominant against Auburn as he was on Saturday.
Depth seems to be an issue — Kentucky didn’t get a single bench point on Saturday — but even that buries the lead a little bit. Nick Richards chipped in with five blocks in nine minutes, which is more or less the reason he’s on the floor, while E.J. Montgomery was never going to get major minutes with the way Travis and Washington were playing. Quickley struggled, but that’s more or less par for the course for him this year.
Point being, Cal got the minutes he needed to get out of his bench.
What matters much, much more is the fact that his best players are hitting their stride as January turns to February.
Once again, a struggling Kentucky team is streaking late in the season.
At this point, the only question is whether or not they are going to peak too soon.