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Undersized Dajuan Harris didn’t need to hit a shot to have an enormous impact vs. Kentucky

Kansas redshirt freshman Dajuan Harris defends the ball during a game against Saint Joseph's on Friday Nov. 27, 2020. The Jayhawks earned a 94-72 win over the Hawks in the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, Florida.

Kansas redshirt freshman Dajuan Harris defends the ball during a game against Saint Joseph's on Friday Nov. 27, 2020. The Jayhawks earned a 94-72 win over the Hawks in the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, Florida. by Photo by Chris Tilley

In a primetime battle between two traditional college basketball powerhouses, a redshirt freshman guard who lacked the size and wingspan of most of the players on the court helped carry Kansas past Kentucky.

Dajuan Harris, all 6-foot-1 and 160 pounds of him, didn’t even make a field goal for the Jayhawks in a 65-62 win Tuesday night at the Champions Classic. But everything else the backup point guard did made it possible for KU to win.

Other than Jalen Wilson, who handled much of KU’s scoring load on a double-double night (23 points and 10 rebounds) for the other redshirt freshman, Harris, head coach Bill Self declared, was the best player in the game.

That’s because, along with Wilson, Harris allows KU to unlock its best lineup, a five-guard combination that spreads the floor and moves the ball on offense, and can switch every screen defensively.

Harris’ final stat line read: two points (0-for-1 field goals, 2-for-2 free throws), one rebound, five assists, four steals, one block and no turnovers in 25 minutes. And over in the plus/minus column, the slight guard with the knack for making winning plays posted a team-best plus-12. KU outscored Kentucky, 53-41 when Harris was in, and the Wildcats held a 21-12 advantage when Harris sat.

How does a young player, especially at his size, come in on such a stage and impact the outcome of the game against No. 20 Kentucky?

Self during his postgame video press conference provided a rundown of all that Harris provides when he steps on the floor.

“He’s a great charge-taker. He’s got the best hands. He doesn’t really try to do much offensively except move the ball, which every team needs somebody like that,” Self began.

“His understanding defensively and his hands are terrific. He had four steals and I don’t know how many other deflections he had led to potential steals or steals,” Self added. “I thought he was great, and I’m really happy for him.”

Harris, who only played three minutes versus Gonzaga and 16 against St. Joseph’s, essentially became KU’s fifth starter against Kentucky, as Self again turned to five guard lineups when starting junior big man David McCormack ran into some issues against UK’s long and athletic front court.

As it got late in the second half, and No. 7 KU trailed Kentucky, 49-45, with 6:41 to go, Self subbed in Harris and Wilson for McCormack and Bryce Thompson.

Before long both igniters were making game-altering plays, just in different fashions. For Harris, a true old school, pass-first point guard, that meant hitting Wilson for a made 3-pointer, calmly knocking down a pair of free throws and securing a steal — and making the pass — that led to an Ochai Agbaji breakaway jam, as KU built a five-point lead a little more than four minutes after Harris and Wilson checked in.

Wilson called Harris’ impact “phenomenal.”

“That’s two games in a row when Dajuan has came in when we need a spark off the bench and he’s given us everything that we need,” Wilson said. “It’s nothing shocking to me. I see ’Juan do this every day in practice, and I hope he continues to do this.”

Agbaji has known Harris dating back to before their time as KU teammates, as both players came up through the MOKAN AAU program. The junior thought the young guard was “special” versus Kentucky. And Agbaji thinks Harris can sustain his early season success, too.

“I’ve known him for awhile. I know that this is how he plays, just his IQ,” Agbaji said. “And the way he thinks and breaks down the game is great.”

Self described KU as “tiny” compared to Kentucky. But that’s perfect for these Jayhawks, who actually play their best with the 6-8 Wilson serving as the small ball stretch-5 and the undersized Harris utilizing his instincts on both ends of the floor.

As Agbaji pointed out, playing Harris also takes some pressure off of senior Marcus Garrett as the point guard.

Self used the five lineup of Harris, Garrett, Christian Braun, Agbaji and Wilson more than any other combination in the win, and that group outscored UK, 40-29, in 16:01 of action.

KU would’ve been in real trouble without Wilson’s scoring. But the Jayhawks needed Harris’ unselfishness and intangibles just as much.

“I thought he was really good tonight,” Self reiterated, “and certainly we don’t win the game without him.”

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John Calipari, who knows his KU basketball, previews Kentucky’s matchup with Jayhawks

Kentucky head coach John Calipari gets animated during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari gets animated during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Kentucky coach John Calipari might know as much about Kansas basketball as any current head coach outside of the program who is not named Danny Manning. An assistant coach at Kansas from 1982 to 1985, Calipari said Friday during his press conference he used to use the archaic shower in the old Allen Fieldhouse locker room thinking, “Phog Allen showered in this shower.”

Calipari credited former Kansas head coach Ted Owens for getting him into the business, and said Owens would watch the Wildcats practice Friday afternoon, ahead of their Saturday night showdown (5:15, ESPN) with the Jayhawks.

Although the Kentucky coach has his own problems to worry about and doesn’t follow the Jayhawks with the zeroed-in focus of a fan, the man knows his KU basketball. With that in mind, here is what Calipari had to say about No. 2 Kansas (18-2 overall, 7-1 Big 12) before Bill Self’s team tries to topple No. 4 Kentucky (17-3, 7-1 SEC) inside Rupp Arena

Like KU, which lost at West Virginia Tuesday, Kentucky is coming off a conference road loss, to Tennessee. So, for the most part, Calipari addressed UK’s issues, such as players holding the ball too much and shots coming without more than one or two passes. Still, the eighth-year Kentucky coach, who is 3-1 versus Self and Kansas in that time, had plenty to say about the Jayhawks.

None by John Calipari

Calipari on KU-UK similarities: “We’re playin’ the top-ranked team (coaches poll) that has veteran guards that understands their freshman (Josh Jackson) is as good as any of our freshmen (De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo).

“You know, they play inside-out. Bill does a great job, and they’re good. They drive the ball like we drive the ball. The difference is they shoot 42 percent from the three. … They make threes. That’s what they do.”

Calipari on how Carlton Bragg’s absence might heighten or impact the importance of UK getting the ball to the paint: “I don’t know. I’m just worried about how we’re playing. … We don’t know what they’re gonna do. They may go zone, they may go triangle-and-two, they may trap the post, they may go small and make us (do the same).

“Whether he plays or doesn’t play, and I guess he’s not playing. I don’t know. I haven’t read a whole lot on it. At this stage, I’m not worried about them. I’m worried about us.”

Calipari on the possibility of a physical game: “You’re having two teams that drive the ball, and you’re having teams that, if there’s bumpin' and grindin' and they’re calling fouls, it’s an issue for both teams, because now you’re gonna go into your bench.”

Calipari on the need to feed 6-foot-10 Adebayo with KU thin in the post: “I’m just trying to tell (his players), ‘Do I have to call plays for you to throw him the ball? Do you really want to play that way?’ If he’s open, throw it to him. Just have it in your mind, ‘I’m looking to him first. I’ll throw it ahead, if I don’t have something I’m trying to get him the ball.’

“He’s the greatest kid. He doesn’t say anything.”

Calipari’s thoughts on two historically elite programs squaring off: “I wish it wasn’t now. I wish it was earlier. But it’s kind of like our North Carolina game in Vegas. I mean, at this point I bet you if you ask people who won that game, they would say, ‘You know what, I don’t know. But, wow, what a game it was.’ [Kentucky won 103-100.]

“We went to an overtime game down there (versus KU, in Allen Fieldhouse, in 2016) last time we played them, and that was in their building. And we’re a different team, and they’re different — they have the guards back, but they’re different. It’s just two programs trying to get better.

“I would imagine Bill’s trying to figure out his team, as I’m trying to figure out our team.”

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Getting to know Kentucky

Kentucky coach John Calipari, left, and hip-hop star Drake speak during the team's NCAA college basketball Big Blue Madness, Friday, Oct. 17, 2014, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Kentucky coach John Calipari, left, and hip-hop star Drake speak during the team's NCAA college basketball Big Blue Madness, Friday, Oct. 17, 2014, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Kentucky coach John Calipari has loaded his roster with so much talent, so much depth that his No. 1-ranked Wildcats actually have two five-man platoons to throw at opponents this season.

Is this guy some sort of evil genius? Bill Self and his No. 5 Kansas Jayhawks will find out for themselves tonight in Indianapolis, at the Champions Classic.

Calipari said Monday at a press conference — detailed by The Courier-Journal — that he isn’t playing each of his top 10 players in two distinct units to make himself look good.

“I’m not doing this to be a genius. I've already told you,” the UK coach said. “They all deserve a chance to show what they are. They're going to. Would I love to do this the whole year? Absolutely. But we may not be able to. It will be decided on the court. If anybody uses this as an excuse, then you won't play.”

The Wildcats’ starting platoon features:

Aaron Harrison — 6-foot-6, soph. G (7.5 points)

Andrew Harrison — 6-foot-6, soph. G (9.5 points)

Alex Poythress — 6-foot-8, jr. F (7.5 points)

Karl-Anthony Towns — 6-foot-11, fr. F (5.5 points)

Willie Cauley-Stein — 7-foot, jr. F (9.0 points)

Those guys would play at least 30 minutes a game in most programs. But Calipari is so confident in his next five, no one on the team has averaged more than Cauley-Stein’s 24.5 minutes through two games.

It’s a minuscule sample size, but at this point, Kentucky’s leading scorer, Trey Lyles, comes into games with the bench platoon:

Trey Lyles — 6-foot-10, fr. F (13.0 points)

Tyler Ulis — 5-foot-9, fr. G (8.5 points)

Devin Booker — 6-foot-6, fr. G (5.0 points)

Marcus Lee — 6-foot-9, soph. F (3.0 points)

Dakari Johnson — 7-foot, soph. C (9.5 points)

Says Calipari: “Bottom line is I'm doing this for these players. They will decide how this plays out. My hope is that they all play, and they'll all play because they deserve to all play."

UK (2-0) warmed up for this early-season showdown vs. the Jayhawks (1-0) with wins over Grand Canyon and Buffalo.

On average, the Wildcats have only taken 16 seconds per possession. With top-tier athletes who aren’t asked to play as many minutes as your typical star players, UK benefits from fresh legs. Just another advantage of Calipari’s platoon system.

Against inferior competition, Kentucky has scored 48.7% of its points off dunks and layups, 18.6% from free throws, 17.3% from behind the 3-point line and 15.4% on 2-point jump shots.

If KU’s perimeter defenders can keep the Wildcats from getting to the paint, that should take the nation’s No. 1 team out of its comfort zone.

And then how would players react, in the midst of this Calipari experiment? Like everyone else, we’ll have to wait and see how a two-platoon team responds to adversity. Is it any more difficult to recover and respond?

It seems the mad scientist, with so many tools at his disposal, isn’t too concerned.

“I’m enjoying it,” Calipari said, “because I know no kid's getting left behind. And I know the easiest thing for me to do is play seven guys."

Reply 7 comments from Kellerman411 Adam James Dano__ Texashawk10_2 Adam Gerval Coldcoffee

No more waiting: Kansas baseball beats Kentucky, 10-6, at Louisville regional

Kansas' Connor McKay, center, hits a foul against Kentucky during an NCAA college baseball regional tournament game in Louisville, Ky., Friday, May 30, 2014. Catching is Kentucky's Michael's Thomas. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Kansas' Connor McKay, center, hits a foul against Kentucky during an NCAA college baseball regional tournament game in Louisville, Ky., Friday, May 30, 2014. Catching is Kentucky's Michael's Thomas. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

After the program went five seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance, Kansas University's baseball players didn't mind doing a little waiting around Friday against Kentucky at Louisville's Jim Patterson Stadium.

Three weather delays prolonged the regional opener a total of three hours and 22 minutes, but after the third moratorium on baseball caused a near two-hour halt in a tie game, the Jayhawks scored four runs combined in the seventh and eighth innings to move on to Saturday's winner's bracket with a 10-6 victory.

Senior Tucker Tharp put Kansas (35-24) ahead for good in the top of the seventh with an RBI double off the left field wall. He later scored from third, making it 8-6, when senior Ka'iana Eldredge hit into a double play with no outs.

Junior Justin Protacio kept the Jayhawks going in the eighth, providing a 9-6 lead when he drove in sophomore Tommy Mirabelli, who led off with a triple. Protacio later scored on a wild pitch from Kentucky reliever Chandler Shepherd.

The Jayhawks and Wildcats (35-24) were tied, 6-6, in the bottom of the fifth when severe weather stopped the action for the second time in the afternoon.

When play resumed, junior right-handed reliever Drew Morovick took the mound for Kansas, and went 3.1 innings, allowing one hit and no runs — making it possible for the Jayhawks' lead to grow.

Tharp went 3-for-5 with three RBIs in the victory. Backup right fielder Joven Afenir, who entered for Dakota Smith when the starter injured a knee in the first inning, went 3-for-4 and scored a run. Junior Michael Suiter drove in two runs.

Kansas, which led 3-0 in the first inning before an hour-plus delay, scored three more in the second inning after Kentucky's Ka'ai Tom drilled a three-run homer to tie the game.

KU will face the winner of Louisville and Kent State at 4 p.m. CST on Saturday.

Get the blow-by-blow details of KU's long day at the ballpark below.

KANSAS STARTING LINEUP

SS JUSTIN PROTACIO

2B COLBY WRIGHT

LF MICHAEL SUITER

RF DAKOTA SMITH

CF TUCKER THARP

DH CONNOR McKAY

C KA'IANA ELDREDGE

1B BLAIR BECK

3B TOMMY MIRABELLI

P JORDAN PICHE'

KENTUCKY STARTING LINEUP

CF AUSTIN COUSINO

3B MAX KUHN

DH A.J. REED

LF KA'AI TOM

C MICHAEL THOMAS

RF STORM WILSON

1B THOMAS BERNAL

SS MATT REIDA

2B JaVON SHELBY

P KYLE CODY

TOP 1 — JAYHAWKS

• Justin Protacio draws a walk on full count

• Colby Wright bunts down 1B line, throwing E by UK P Kyle Cody soars into foul territory — Protacio reaches 3B

• Michael Suiter sacrifice bunt down 1B line scores Protacio

KANSAS 1, KENTUCKY 0

• [Wright advances to 3B on wild pitch to Dakota Smith]

• Dakota Smith smashes RBI double to LF gap — scores Wright

KANSAS 2, KENTUCKY 0

• Tucker Tharp singles to LF — Smith advances to 3B

• Tharp steals 2B as rain begins to pour — slick ball takes off on C Michael Thomas, ends up in the outfield — Smith scores, Tharp moves on to 3B on the E

KANSAS 3, KENTUCKY 0

None by Kansas Baseball

None by Kansas Baseball

{After a 1 hour, 3 minutes rain delay, play resumes with Connor McKay at bat, 3-2 count, 1 out}

{Kentucky replaces starting P Kyle Cody with RHP Andrew Nelson}

• Connor McKay strikes out

• Ka'iana Eldredge strikes out looking

BOTTOM 1 — WILDCATS

• Austin Cousino strikes out

• Max Kuhn singles to CF

• A.J. Reed walks

• Ka'ai Tom crushes 3-run home run to RF

KANSAS 3, KENTUCKY 3

• Micheal Thomas grounds out to SS

• Storm Wilson grounds out to 2B

AFTER 1 INNING, KANSAS 3, KENTUCKY 3

TOP 2 — JAYHAWKS

• Blair Beck grounds out to 2B

• Tommy Mirabelli strikes out

• Justin Protacio walks

• Colby Wright walks

• Michael Suiter single to LF scores Protacio from 2B

KANSAS 4, KENTUCKY 3

• Joven Afenir (entered for Dakota Smith, who hurt a knee before rain delay) singles to LF

• Tucker Tharp drives in 2 runs with single to the right side

KANSAS 6, KENTUCKY 3

• Connor McKay grounds out to SS

BOTTOM 2 — WILDCATS

• Thomas Bernal pops to SS

• Matt Reida strikes out looking

• JaVon Shelby strikes out

AFTER 2 INNINGS, KANSAS 6, KENTUCKY 3

TOP 3 — JAYHAWKS

• Ka'iana Eldredge grounds out to 2B

• Blair Beck grounds out to 3B

• Tommy Mirabelli walks on 3-2 pitch

• Justin Protacio grounds out to 1B

BOTTOM 3 — WILDCATS

• Austin Cousino hustles his way to double on would-be base hit to CF

• [Cousino advances to 3B on wild pitch to Max Kuhn]

• [Cousino scores on passed ball]

KANSAS 6, KENTUCKY 4

• Max Kuhn walks

• A.J. Reed strikes out

• Ka'ai Tom hits into inning-ending double play — 2B Wright to SS Protacio to 1B Beck

AFTER 3 INNINGS, KANSAS 6, KENTUCKY 4

TOP 4 — JAYHAWKS

• Colby Wright grounds out to 2B

• Michael Suiter flies out to LF warning track

• Joven Afenir singles to CF

• [Joven Afenir steals 2B]

• Tucker Tharp robbed of hit up middle by sliding 2B JaVon Shelby, who throws him out

BOTTOM 4 — WILDCATS

• Micheal Thomas singles to CF

• Storm Wilson singles to CF — Thomas advances to 3B; Wilson to 2B on throw

• Thomas Bernal knocks in 2 with base hit up the middle

KANSAS 6, KENTUCKY 6

• Matt Reida flies out to deep RF

• JaVon Shelby pops out, foul to 1B Blair Beck, who grabs it right before stepping into Kentucky's dugout

• [Bernal steals 2B]

• Austin Cousino chops infield single to SS; Protacio doesn't make throw to 1B and KU is able to tag out Bernal, who took a big turn around 3B

AFTER 4 INNINGS, KANSAS 6, KENTUCKY 6

TOP 5 — JAYHAWKS

• Connor McKay grounds out to SS

• Ka'iana Eldredge strikes out

• Ka'iana Eldredge lines out to 2B

BOTTOM 5 — WILDCATS

{Rain brings second in-game weather delay}

None by Kansas Baseball

None by Kansas Baseball

None by Kansas Baseball

{Play resumes, following one hour and 58 minutes weather delay}

{KU RHP Drew Morovick relieves starting P Piche' — no outs, no one on base for Kentucky}

• Max Kuhn singles to LF

• A.J. Reed flies out to LF

• Ka'ai Tom flies out to LF

• Micheal Thomas pops out to SS Protacio in LF

AFTER 5 INNINGS, KANSAS 6, KENTUCKY 6

TOP 6 — JAYHAWKS

{Chandler Shepherd enters to pitch for Kentucky}

• Tommy Mirabelli singles to LF

• Justin Protacio lines out to CF

• Colby Wright grounds to SS, reaches on fielder's choice — Mirabelli out at 2B

• Michael Suiter lines out to CF

BOTTOM 6 — WILDCATS

• Storm Wilson walks on full count

• Thomas Bernal sacrifice bunt — Wilson moves to 2B

• (Wilson moves to 3B on wild pitch)

• Matt Reida pops out to shallow LF — Michael Suiter throws out Wilson at home, where Ka'iana Eldredge applies the tag with ease

AFTER 6 INNINGS, KANSAS 6, KENTUCKY 6

TOP 7 — JAYHAWKS

• Joven Afenir singles to LF

• Tucker Tharp smacks RBI double off LF wall

KANSAS 7, KENTUCKY 6

• Connor McKay bunt down 3B line gives him an infield single — Tharp moves to 3B

• Ka'iana Eldredge hits into double play, but Tharp scores

KANSAS 8, KENTUCKY 6

• Jacob Boylan (hit for Blair Beck) grounds out to 2B

BOTTOM 7 — WILDCATS

• JaVon Shelby strikes out

• Austin Cousino flies out to CF

• Max Kuhn flies out to RF

AFTER 7 INNINGS, KANSAS 8, KENTUCKY 6

TOP 8 — JAYHAWKS

• Tommy Mirabelli smacks triple off RF wall

• Justin Protacio RBI single to CF

KANSAS 9, KENTUCKY 6

• Colby Wright doubles to gap in right-center — Protacio moves to 3B

• Michael Suiter pops up to 2B

• (Protacio scores on wild pitch to Joven Afenir — Wright moves to 3B)

KANSAS 10, KENTUCKY 6

• Joven Afenir strikes out looking

• Tucker Tharp flies out, foul to RF

BOTTOM 8 — WILDCATS

• A.J. Reed walks on four pitches

• Ka'ai Tom flies out to CF

{Closer Stephen Villines relieves Morovick}

• Micheal Thomas reaches on fielder's choice with ground ball to 3B — Reed out at 2B

• Storm Wilson strikes out

AFTER 8 INNINGS, KANSAS 10, KENTUCKY 6

TOP 9 — JAYHAWKS

• Connor McKay strikes out looking

• Ka'iana Eldredge flies out to CF

• Ryan Pidhaichuk strikes out looking

BOTTOM 9 — WILDCATS

• Thomas Bernal grounds out to SS

• Matt Reida doubles down the RF line

• Kyle Barrett (hitting for JaVon Shelby) flies out to CF

• Austin Cousino flies out to LF

FINAL: KANSAS 10, KENTUCKY 6

Reply 16 comments from Dan Cook Texashawk10_2 Jim Stauffer Micky Baker Craig Carr Benton Smith Todd Simpson Rob Gaston Jmfitz85 Chuckberry32