LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Frank Mason III added another strong bullet point to his national player of the year resume on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge against Kentucky.
The Kansas senior point guard scored a game-high 21 points and won the head-to-head battle against his talented freshman counterpart, De'Aaron Fox, in leading the No. 2 Jayhawks to a 79-73 win over the No. 4 Wildcats at a raucous Rupp Arena.
"I thought our experience, Frank and Devonte’ (Graham), and Josh (Jackson) plays much older than his years... I thought those guys played with pretty good poise down the stretch," Kansas head coach Bill Self said. "Really good."
“It helped us a lot to come in here and get a win," said Mason, whose team was coming off an 85-69 loss on Tuesday at West Virginia. "They (Kentucky) are a great team and a great program with great tradition. Just for all the guys to come out here and experience that will help us out when it matters.”
The Jayhawks (19-2, 7-1 Big 12) got 20 points and 10 rebounds from Jackson, a freshman wing who came up with some of the game's biggest momentum plays in helping his team become only the sixth club to defeat UK in Lexington during the John Calipari era.
"We got out-toughed and we didn't guard the way we need to guard, which is all curable," said a disappointed but still optimistic Calipari. KU shot 59 percent in the second half.
Kentucky (17-4, 7-1 SEC) led by as many as 12 points in the first half but had trouble adjusting to Kansas' switch to a 2-3 zone mixed with a triangle-and-two zone defense. The Cats could not find good looks for leading scorer Malik Monk and committed 17 turnovers that led to 21 points for the Jayhawks.
UK lost for the second time this week and may have seen its hopes for a No. 1 seed in the rapidly approaching NCAA Tournament go up in flames. The Cats have now dropped three of its five marquee non-conference games, including two at home against UCLA and Kansas.
Derek Willis and Monk each had 18 points to lead UK, but the latter had only six over the game's final 30-plus minutes. Bam Adebayo and Fox managed only 10 points apiece -- nine points under their season average -- and combined for nine turnovers.
"Again, 17 turnovers," Calipari said. "Again, 10 from our guards. We have been a low, low turnover team until the last three games. Now, all of a sudden we're averaging 17 turnovers a game. That shouldn't be who we are."
Kentucky also hurt its chances by hitting only 13 of 22 free throws (59 percent).
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the game...
WHAT WENT WRONG:
Kentucky appeared poised to dominate the game late in the first half, leading 29-17 with 4:58 remaining until the break. But Kansas responded with a 10-3 run to close out the half and take some momentum into the locker room, even though the Jayhawks were still trailing by five. Self referred to it as the moment the game was won. They opened the second half by knocking down their first two 3-pointers of the night to grab the lead. Kentucky's last lead would come with 13:23 remaining, and the Cats dug themselves a 10-point hole with 4:41 to go before a late rally fell short.
Frank Mason III, Kansas -- The national player of the year candidate showed exactly why he has been receiving so many accolades this season, controlling the tempo and winning the matchup with Fox decisively. Mason had a game-high 21 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field, while helping hold the young UK star to only 10 points on a 5-for-12 shooting night to go along with five turnovers.
BY THE NUMBERS:
4th - Time UK has lost under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points. The Cats are 204-4 in such games.
5-3 - Calipari's record against top-five opponents.
6th - Loss for Calipari at Rupp Arena in 135 games.
5-5 - Final record in this year's Big 12/SEC Challenge.
7:32 - Span during second half (13:58 to 6:26) in which Monk did not attempt a shot for Cats.
22-8 - Kentucky's all-time series lead over Kansas, who won for only the second time ever in Lexington.
"It’s very satisfying to win. I told our team this prepping for the game, this is an important game but it’s not as important as our (Big 12) game on Wednesday, it’s not as important as our game last Tuesday. But it’s kind of like when you go to an AAU tournament. It’s kind of like the showcase game. There’s a showcase game, and you win or lose, it’s no big deal. It doesn’t affect the bracket. That’s kind of what I thought about this game. Of course I know it means a lot to the fans of both schools, and certainly, there’s a lot of tradition on the line." -- KU coach Bill Self
Kentucky returns to action Tuesday at Rupp Arena against Georgia. Tipoff is slated for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. The Bulldogs (13-7, 4-3 SEC) defeated Texas on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.