Saturday, January 28, 2017


Tom Keegan: In a game full of stars, Lucas proves to be most valuable

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) finishes a dunk before Kentucky guard Malik Monk (5) and Kentucky forward Edrice Adebayo (3) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) finishes a dunk before Kentucky guard Malik Monk (5) and Kentucky forward Edrice Adebayo (3) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.


— World-famous ring announcer Michael Buffer found the stage so big he even tweaked his trademarked slogan and said, “Let’s get ready for roundbaaaaaaall!”

And 24,418 basketball-crazed spectators, most anticipating a slaughter that would send them home from Rupp Arena in a euphoric state, let out a roar.

The pre-game buildup centered on the celebrity coaches on both benches, the four McDonald’s All-Americans in Kentucky’s starting lineup and the one in Kansas’, plus his senior teammate, the national-player-of-the-year candidate.

In other words, this was just a routine day at the office for Kansas fifth-year senior Landen Lucas, ever the plow horse among thoroughbreds, the unnoticed foundation holding up the magnificent mansion.

Not surprisingly, Lucas willed and wiled his way to a big second half to help Kansas defeat favored Kentucky, 79-73, Saturday in a game the Jayhawks trailed by 12 points in the first half.

No way Kansas had a chance of winning Saturday, not with freshman Bam Adebayo emerging of late for Kentucky with dunks heard ‘round the college basketball world.

Lucas is more of a stealth enforcer. He didn’t come out of high school with a nickname or much of a shot at developing into a pivotal player at a school that attracts NBA post prospects the way president attracts headlines.

Yet, there he was again, standing his ground, keeping at bay the more muscular, broader, longer, 20-sculpted-pounds-heavier Adebayo, who looks about five years Lucas’ senior instead of four years younger.

Even with Udoka Azubuike gone for the season and Carlton Bragg suspended, Lucas had plenty of help, from a coach who mixed defenses, playing a 2-3 zone and a triangle-and-two, along with his preferred man-to-man, and a forgotten reserve, Dwight Coleby, but in many ways Lucas was as important as just about anybody on the floor.

He finished with 13 points, made 6 of 6 field goals, had five rebounds, a block and a steal and didn’t turn it over once.

Adebayo gave Kentucky 10 points and eight rebounds.

The number that best captured Lucas’ impact: Kansas outscored Kentucky by 13 points in the 27 minutes Lucas played before fouling out. In the 13 minutes he sat, Kentucky held a seven-point advantage.

“Without Landen, I don’t know where we would be,” said Jackson, co-star of the game with Frank Mason. “He’s just an amazing force down there. He really helps us out. Without him, I don’t know who would have guarded Bam.”

At that point, Mason interrupted: “I would have guarded him.”

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Jackson, Mason break down comeback win at Kentucky

Josh Jackson and Frank Mason break down KU's comeback at Kentucky.

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It hasn’t quite come to that, but if ever it does, Mason won’t back up an inch. Mason and Lucas have been around long enough to know a 12-point deficit in the first half means nothing when stacked against the meaning of the next possession. Mason uses strong will, savvy and amazing athleticism to make plays that belie his height.

How does Lucas consistently get it done against bigger, faster, quicker, much louder talents?

“Just being in the right spots,” Coleby said. “He’s been playing so long, so he’s one of the best sealers there is, so he knows how to get angles, just knows how to be in the right spot. I’m always asking him how he does it because I’m trying to learn how to do it too.”

Intimidation doesn’t enter Lucas’ world because he has spent the past five years battling more athletic and skilled basketball players daily in practice: Jeff Withey and Joel Embiid blocked his shots. Perry Ellis tied up his feet with fancy footwork.

McDonald’s All-American Cliff Alexander came on board to keep Lucas on the bench, but by the end of the season, when Alexander was suspended, Lucas started.

A year later, Cheick Diallo, MVP of the McDonald’s game and so much faster and bouncier, was sure to plant Lucas right back on the bench. Didn’t even come close to happening.

Good luck trying to find an event at a track meet in which Lucas could defeat Jamari Traylor, but Lucas eventually beat him out too. Hunter Mickelson had a much more natural knack for blocking shots and far more range as a shooter. He sat and watched Lucas play his spot.

Azubuike showed serious promise until a wrist injury knocked him out of the season in December.

Not to worry, one more McDonald’s All-American stood taller in the talent department, but Carlton Bragg didn’t make the trip and has been suspended indefinitely.

Lucas helped Kansas give John Calipari just his sixth loss in 135 games in Rupp Arena (Bill Self is 132-3 in his last 135 Allen Fieldhouse games) and when sent praise KU’s way, you could see plays made by Jackson and Lucas dancing in his head.

“We don’t normally lose here, but Kansas, you got to give them credit,” Calipari said. “They came in here and all the plays they had to make in the second half, even when we made a run to make it close again, they were effort plays, too. They were tip-ins, they were grabs, they were second and third shots.”

They were basketball plays made by a player who knows how to block out doubts and doubters as well as he does potential rebounders trying to gain advantageous position on him.

This was the perfect stage for the imperfect prospect and he didn’t miss his shot at a slice of fame. In fact, he didn’t miss a shot period.

By the Numbers: Kansas 79, Kentucky 73

By the Numbers: Kansas 79, Kentucky 73

— See what people were saying about the game during's live coverage.

More news and notes from Kansas vs. Kentucky


Henry Joseph Hofmeister 3 years, 10 months ago

Coleby isn't a forgotten reserve. I wish he redshirted this year but being so shorthanded it is a strange situation. We are going to be Philly big next year and guard light. If bragg makes it another year and Lagerald takes point, then wow.

Steve Macy 3 years, 10 months ago

I thought last year was a red shirt/transfer year?

Brett McCabe 3 years, 10 months ago

Agree that Coleby brought some energy and toughness in that game. While Lightfoot was overmatched, I also like his energy and effort - it bodes well for the future.

What's amazing about this win to me is that we won without benefitting from plays we normally execute. Other than Vick's fast break basket, I don't think we had any alley-oops, we couldn't successfully pass over the top of their interior defense, our 3PT shooting in the first-half was abysmal, etc. Pretty impressive job by those young men to gut that win out.

I expect an especially raucous crowd will be waiting for Baylor.

Also, kudos to Kentucky for an electric atmosphere - loved Dorothy plus-3 in the stands, the player announcements, everything. Pretty impressive.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 10 months ago

Coleby couldn't redshirt this year as he sat out last year. Vick will never take over at the point.

Jim Woodward 3 years, 10 months ago

Tom thats a very nice article and it is great for you to focus on Landen. He is deceptively powerful and he really came through.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 10 months ago

Josh Jackson was the difference maker last night with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 39 minutes played. Not taking anything away from Lucas but he would have fouled out much earlier if Coleby wasn't as effective as he was.

Suzi Marshall 3 years, 10 months ago

It was appropriate for the Hawks to pull off Ali's rope-a-dope with Buffer calling the UK lineup.

W Keith Swinehart II 3 years, 10 months ago

Terrific article, Tom. Nice, well deserved tribute to Lando. He quietly dominated, setting the stage for everyone else. He is so reliable. Thoughtful touch inserting comments and contributions by other players. Love the wry Mason humor; exactly how he plays. I like how the players all appreciate one another. That's a sure mark of a winning team.

Buck Bukaty 3 years, 10 months ago

Meanwhile, knock-on-wood, Gonzaga played an away conference game against a team with a 6 - 15 record at that college basketball hotbed of Malibu, CA in a college gym about the size of a local Blue Valley High School gym. Yawn. Bring it on, recruits!!!!

RJ King 3 years, 10 months ago

Buck, they have wins over San Diego State, Florida, Iowa State, Arizona, Washington, Tennessee and Saint Mary's - good enough for 12th in RPI.

Yes, their SOS is 116, just above Texas Tech. (BTW, UCLA's SOS is only 106.) But we don't typically compete with Gonzaga for recruits anyway.

The SEC's showing vs the Big 12 was actually kind of impressive overall. I think quality basketball is pretty spread out this year. Surf's up.

Buck Bukaty 3 years, 10 months ago

Kudos to the Big 12 Conference for maintaining possession of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge trophy! As a result of a 5/5 split this year, the Big 12 maintains the trophy by way of Earning It last year!

As for the Jayhawks, rock-on to the Baker's Dozen in the Big 12!!

Andy Godwin 3 years, 10 months ago

Excellent and accurate recap of Laden's career. Every successful team needs the unappreciated, lunch box type of player that does the dirty work while making everyone else around him better.

Bryce Landon 3 years, 10 months ago

It feels sometimes like Landen Lucas has been here for five or six years. If anyone has "unlimited eligibility", it has to be Landen Lucas, not Perry Ellis.

Am I the only one who feels that way?

Dirk Medema 3 years, 10 months ago

Landen has been here for 5 years. While not common, it is just regular old fashion eligibility.

Jonathan Allison 3 years, 10 months ago

it is impressive to think that Landen was on the team with Jeff Withey, Kevin Young, Elijah Johnson, and Ben McLemore.

Here is a player who was dedicated and stuck it out despite Coach Self consistently bringing in 5 star recruits like Embiid, Cliff, Carlton, and Udoka. As well as bringing in transfer talent like Mickelson and Coleby.

Self redshirted him for this moment, believing that he would be a good player at Kansas and much more valuable as a 23 y/o than as an 18 y/o.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 10 months ago

Glad that Dwight is trying to pick-up the foundation work from Landen. We need his reserve minutes this year and next.

RJ King 3 years, 10 months ago

Love, love, love Landon, but was disappointed that he picked up that 5th foul at game's end. A couple of flukey plays later to tie the game, and we would have surely lost in overtime without him playing for at least a few minutes.

Kevin Whelan 3 years, 10 months ago

Tom... Great story about Landon! I loved the way you wove in his experience playing against so much talent among fellow teammates: Jeff Withey Joel Embiid Cheick Diallo Cliff Alexander Hunter Mickelson Perry Ellis Udoka Azubuike No wonder he has so much polish and sophistication! I enjoy your work. Great job!

Martin Rosenblum 3 years, 10 months ago

Does anybody know how the teams were picked from the SEC to participate in this series? It's interesting that Missouri wasn't involved, but obviously there are more SEC teams than B12 teams. Maybe a function of the rankings within their conference and Mizz was too far down the list. Just wondering.

Brian D. Steward 3 years, 10 months ago

Have you seen Missouri's teams and records lately? Who would want to play that? It won't help the team that plays them in any category, except for giving them another win. There is a dumpster fire in Mizzou Arena and no one wants to huddle around it.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 10 months ago

Wasn't what they thought would happen but I'm not losing any sleep over it. Their basketball team is pathetically bad.

Martin Rosenblum 3 years, 10 months ago

I have no interest in Missouri playing or not playing. Just wondering how the process works in selecting which teams play and which ones don't.

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