LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Kansas is proving it doesn’t need Wayne Simien to beat a quality opponent, even on the road.
Playing without its standout inside player, the second-ranked Jayhawks got 28 points from the frontline of C.J. Giles, Christian Moody and Sasha Kaun on Sunday in a 65-59 victory over No. 8 Kentucky.
Playing its first game of the season on an opponent’s home court—and in front of 24,367 fans, the second-largest crowd in Rupp Arena history—Kansas (11-0) won for the fourth straight time without preseason All-America Wayne Simien, who could return as early as next week following surgery on his left thumb.
Included in that stretch are wins over two Top Ten teams, Georgia Tech and Kentucky (10-2). Kansas coach Bill Self said that, in Simien’s absence, the production the Jayhawks received from their inside players was a bonus.
“We said before the game, that if we could get 20 points from our (forwards) and (centers), we’ll be in good shape,” Self said.
The loss snapped Kentucky’s six-game winning streak. The Wildcats’ other loss came at No. 3 North Carolina.
“I think we are still a good team and we have the potential to get where we need to be,” Kentucky forward Chuck Hayes said. “The two teams we lost to are as good as anyone in the country.”
Giles, a freshman starting in place of Simien, went 5-of-5 from the field and finished with 10 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots. Moody, a junior walk-on, had 11 points and seven rebounds, while Kaun, a freshman who didn’t play in Kansas’ last game, added seven points off the bench.
Another inside player, freshman Alex Galindo, had four blocked shots.
“They kept us in the game,” Kansas guard Aaron Miles said. “Without them we would have been in trouble.”
That’s because Kansas’ perimeter trio of Keith Langford, Miles and J.R. Giddens—thought to be the Jayhawks’ strength with Simien out—went a combined 7-of-28 from the field.
Kentucky’s perceived strength—its frontline of Hayes, Kelenna Azubuike and Randolph Morris—proved to be its downfall, as that trio shot a combined 8-of-35, including 0-of-8 by Morris.
“They outplayed us inside,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “Look at the percentages of their post people and you can see we had a tough time guarding them.”
The win was only the Jayhawks’ fourth in 23 meetings with Kentucky and their first in 11 tries against the Wildcats in Kentucky. The traditional powers hadn’t played each other since a 1999 NCAA tournament game.
Kansas held its biggest lead at 52-44 with 6:12 left, but a 9-0 Kentucky run, capped by a driving, off-balance layup by Patrick Sparks, put the Wildcats up 53-52 with 3:54 left.
Miles scored his only basket of the game 20 seconds later to regain the lead for good for the Jayhawks, who won despite committing a season-high 21 turnovers.
“I just saw a crease in the defense and I tried to attack it,” Miles said.
Kansas led 58-56 and had the ball when Miles fell down while dribbling and being harassed by Sparks. The ball bounced to Michael Lee, who made a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left.
“In close games, it’s often called traveling,” Miles said. “We just got lucky on that play.”
Miles and Giddens each made two free throws over the final 17 seconds to seal the win.
Kansas finished the game without Giles, who fouled out with 5:20 left; Moody, who injured his ankle with 1:29 left; and Langford, who was hit in the head with 2:45 left and never returned. Self said Langford suffered a severe concussion.
Self said he didn’t know the status of Langford or Moody for Kansas’ next game, at Iowa State on Wednesday.
Neither team shot well. Kansas was 21-of-53 from the field (39.6 percent), including 4-of-16 from 3-point range. Kentucky fared worse, shooting 21-of-68 (30.9 percent), including 6-of-26 from beyond the arc.
“You’ve got to make shots,” Smith said. “They did a good job neutralizing our inside game. I’m disappointed in our execution, or the lack of.”
Azubuike led the Wildcats with 12 points, but was 4-of-16 from the field. Sparks had 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting. The only consistent offensive threat for Kentucky was reserve forward Bobby Perry, who had 10 points and seven rebounds, both career highs.
“It was a bad experience for the whole team,” Sparks said.
Kentucky didn’t reach double figures on the scoreboard until 6:42 remained in the first half, but the Wildcats closed the half on a 16-6 run to lead 25-21.
An 8-0 run by Kansas early in the second half put the Jayhawks ahead 40-33 with 13:42 left.
Kentucky is 25-7 all-time at Rupp Arena against higher-ranked opponents.