No. 2 Kansas rallies past No. 4 Kentucky 79-73 in Challenge

Kansas' Josh Jackson (11) shoots while defended by Kentucky's Edrice "Bam" Adebayo (3) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Second-ranked Kansas missed all of its 3-point attempts in the first half, and still the Jayhawks kept on shooting.

That confidence paid off in one of college basketball’s toughest, loudest environments.

Josh Jackson calmly made consecutive 3-pointers to jumpstart the Jayhawks, Frank Mason III had 21 points and Kansas beat No. 4 Kentucky 79-73 on Saturday night in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.

The Challenge’s marquee matchup between college basketball’s two winningest programs ended with the Jayhawks earning their second straight win over the Wildcats on Kentucky’s home floor.

Three-point shooting was critical for Kansas (19-2). It shook off an 0-for-8 first half to make 5 of 11 after halftime, starting with Jackson’s back-to-back makes which provided the first of several leads in a back-and-forth half. Kansas led throughout the final seven minutes.

The Jayhawks shot 59 percent in the second half, and Jackson finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

“I find making 3s gets kind of contagious,” the freshman said. “I think it kind of opened it up for us a little bit.”

Kansas got this big victory at the end of a tumultuous week for the program.

After the Jayhawks’ 85-69 loss Tuesday night at No. 18 West Virginia, campus police in Lawrence announced they were investigating an alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl at the team’s dormitory. Coach Bill Self said on Thursday that the investigation had become a “major distraction.” Self also suspended forward Carlton Bragg Jr. this week for a violation of team rules that he said wasn’t connected to the investigation.

Mason had 13 second-half points and Landen Lucas contributed 13 points — including a layup with 4:41 remaining to cap an 11-0 run for a 69-59 lead — and five rebounds before fouling out. Kentucky (17-4) got within 77-73 before Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk’s two free throws with 16 seconds left sealed the hard-fought win.

“Coach told us to focus on the things we can control and we did a pretty good job of that,” Mason said. “We just have to do that, not get distracted and focus on what we can control.”

Kansas used a variety of defenses, including a zone, to effectively slow Kentucky. Malik Monk and Derek Willis each had 18 points for the Wildcats (17-4), but Monk had just had six in the second half as the Wildcats dropped their second straight.

THE BIG PICTURE

Kansas: The Jayhawks forced 17 turnovers for 21 points and outscored Kentucky 44-34 in the paint. Devonte’ Graham had 12 points, and Mykhailiuk provided a big lift in place of Bragg with eight points.

“I thought this could get ugly really fast,” Self said. “The key part of the game for us was the last five minutes to get it to five (32-27) at halftime. … Then Josh’s two 3s to start the second half took the lid off and we were pretty good after that.”

Kentucky: The Wildcats’ ragged stretch just before halftime resulted in 10 turnovers, and their problems continued in the second half. They gave the Jayhawks all kinds of opportunities that not even 40-percent 3-point shooting could overcome. The Wildcats don’t lose often at Rupp Arena, but they now have two home defeats this season, both in marquee games against ranked teams — they lost to now-No. 8 UCLA in December.

“Kansas’ experience showed,” said Isaiah Briscoe, who had 12 points and eight rebounds. “They were down and kept fighting. I give them credit, but a lot of that is on us.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Kansas’ gutsy win in a tough environment might be enough to convince some poll voters to put the Jayhawks on top. Kentucky figures to drop several spots with a home loss following an SEC defeat at mid-pack Tennessee.

LOUD AND PROUD

The Wildcats got a little help from Michael Buffer in setting a world record.

A representative from the Guinness Book of World Records was present at Rupp Arena to confirm a new mark for loudest indoor crowd cheer at 126.4 decibels just before tipoff. Buffer, the legendary boxing ring announcer, helped out by charging the crowd up.

Two subsequent attempts to top that level fell short, despite motivation from actor Steve Zahn. But it still bested the Sacramento Kings’ record of 126, set in November 2013.

UP NEXT

Kansas: The Jayhawks have a few days to savor this win before hosting No. 5 Baylor on Wednesday night in a battle of the Big 12’s top two teams. Iowa State comes in next Saturday.

Kentucky: Looks to end its two-game slide at home against Georgia on Tuesday night before traveling to Florida next Saturday.