No. 5 Kansas survived a challenge from No. 4 UConn on Friday night, needing a rally over the final nine minutes for a 69-65 win in a battle of college basketball's past two national champions. Kevin McCullar Jr. led the Jayhawks with 21 points as KU outlasted a Huskies team that entered with the nation's longest winning streak at 13.
Tristen Newton put UConn on his back with 31 points as he repeatedly hit contested 3-pointers late in the shot clock to zap some of the life from a sold-out Allen Fieldhouse. But he couldn't keep the Jayhawks at bay late.
After falling behind 52-47 with 9:09 remaining, Kansas used an 14-2 run over the next five minutes to regain control. Spearheading the late charge was McCullar, who hit three 3-pointers over the game's final six minutes.
The Jayhawks needed his marksmanship withstand a barrage from Newton, who made 6 of 9 attempts from beyond the arc. Alex Karaban was the only other UConn player in double figures at 10 points, but he fouled out with 1:49 remaining. KJ Adams Jr. added 18 for Kansas.
It was another signature early season win for KU, which entered with victories against No. 12 Kentucky and No. 10 Tennessee; its lone loss is to No. 3 Marquette. The win marked the 13th time in coach Bill Self's 21-year tenure that Kansas has played a top-10 team at home that was ranked higher than the Jayhawks. KU has won all 13 games.
Hot from the outside
Kansas ranked 251st nationally in made 3-pointers per game entering Friday at 6.6. But against UConn, the Jayhawks hit 9 of 14 shots from beyond the arc. It was a good sign for KU, which had struggled from 3-point range over its last five games after hitting 23 of 49 long-range attempts in its first two games.
Beyond McCullar's critical late 3s, the Jayhawks benefitted from a 3 of 4 showing by star center Hunter Dickinson, who faced a tough matchup with UConn's 7-foot-2 Donovan Clingan. Dickinson helped KU stay one step ahead of the Huskies in the first half as he scored 10 of his 15 points before the break. It marked just the eighth time in Dickinson's four-year college career that he's hit three or more 3-pointers, and the outside shooting performance set him apart in a marquee matchup with another star big man.
Depth concerns are real
All five Kansas starters logged more than 30 minutes, and the rotation essentially went just six deep as the Jayhawks deployed Parker Braun and Nic Timberlake for just two minutes apiece. Both McCullar and Dickinson finished with four fouls, which could have been deeply problematic if the game had gone to overtime.
The dismissal of Texas transfer guard Arterio Morris before the season, along with the departures of former 2023 commits Marcus Adams Jr. and Chris Johnson from KU's recruiting class, have left Self with a short bench. Two of the six who were part of Friday's rotation were freshmen Elmarko Jackson and Johnny Furphy.
They handled the big moment fairly well, but the Jayhawks are going to need more from their bench as the season progresses. It would be particularly helpful if Towson transfer Nic Timberlake could get going. Over five seasons at Towson, he shot 37.7% from 3-point range but was shooting just 29.4% entering Friday's game and didn't attempt a shot in his two minutes against UConn.
What's next for UConn
The outcome snapped the end of UConn's record streak of 24 straight double-digit victories against nonconference opponents and dropped it to just 1-10 in its last 11 games against top-five opponents. But there's no reason to hit the panic button on the reigning national champions. Allen Fieldhouse is one of the most hostile venues in college basketball, and the Huskies had a chance to steal one late.
Huskies other than Newton made 5 of 19 shots from beyond the arc, which included a combine 3 of 14 for proven perimeter shoots Alex Karaban and Cam Spencer. Instances of both players shooting poorly in the same game will be rare this season. With highly touted freshman guard Stephon Castle set to return from a knee injury this month, the Huskies still have a lot to look forward to prior to the beginning of Big East play on Dec. 20.
UConn plays North Carolina on Tuesday and Gonzaga on Dec. 15, which will give the Huskies the chance to add to a résumé that already includes wins over Indiana and Texas in the Empire Classic.