The scenario is similar to last season when UK took the preseason No. 1 ranking to Chicago for the Champions Classic, falling 78-74 to second-ranked Michigan State in a game where the Cats’ talented but untested freshmen fell behind early by double figures and never could catch the Spartans.
“I would hope these veterans understand what they are walking into,” UK coach John Calipari said. “Teams are going to play like their life depends on it, and we have to do the same.”
Kansas (1-0) enters the matchup coming off a season-opening 69-59 win over UC Santa Barbara. One-time UK recruiting target Perry Ellis had 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Devonte Graham came off the bench to score a team-high 14 points to lead the Jayhawks.
Bill Self’s squad also features three other former UK recruits, including freshman center/forward Cliff Alexander, who came off the KU bench to score nine points and grab four rebounds in the opener, as well as guards Wayne Selden and Kelly Oubre, who will no doubt be looking to make a statement against the Cats.
“We have a tough schedule,” Calipari said. “Our thing is, kind of spread throughout the whole preseason, but, this is the next step. They (the Jayhawks) are a top-5 team and predicted to be in the Final Four. They are that good. If we play like we did in the first half (against Buffalo) we will get smashed. If we play like we did in the second half, we have a chance because you have to fight on every possession.”
Kentucky learned that the hard way on Sunday, trailing Bobby Hurley’s Bulls 38-33 at the intermission before pulling away late for a 71-52 win.
Calipari, however, dismissed the notion that UK was not ready from the opening tip.
“It is not like (we) didn’t come to play. It was just that the other team came like a pack of hungry dogs,” he said. “Well, then you can’t just say ‘This is good enough.’ We are learning that. When we play with great energy and match the other team or go beyond the other team, we are long and athletic. But if they are blowing us out of the water with their energy, it is going to look like it did. And it doesn’t matter who we play.”
Kentucky and Kansas tip off in the second game of Tuesday's doubleheader. The first game, No. 4 Duke (2-0) versus No. 19 Michigan State (1-0), tips off at 7 p.m. ET.