How KJ Adams helped the Kansas Jayhawks beat Kentucky in Chicago: ‘He was terrific’

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Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball forward KJ Adams gestured toward the United Center roof.

He made eye contact with a streaking Kevin McCullar, who hadn’t even crossed halfcourt yet. And those signals were all the duo needed.

The play was on.

Adams rose in the air, caught a lob pass from McCullar, viciously dunked the ball and then spun while clutching the rim before landing on the floor.

The scoreboard read Kentucky 60, Kansas 56. The Wildcats’ 14-point lead was now just four, and the Jayhawks had all the momentum en route to an 89-84 victory in the Champions Classic.

Such momentum-shifting plays aren’t exactly a new concept for Jayhawks fans. The athletic Adams typically produces such highlight-reel sequences. And frequently those play helps shift games in the Jayhawks’ favor.

Adams finished with 16 points on 8-for-11 shooting and grabbed four rebounds Tuesday. He also played his usual stellar defense against the Wildcats’ athletic lineup.

But in a KU lineup loaded with stars like McCullar, Hunter Dickinson and Dajuan Harris, Adams is often able to operate in the shadows.

He isn’t the flashiest scorer, nor does he score much from the perimeter. Yet teammates have come to expect big things from Adams.

“I’m always on KJ because I know he can be dominant on the boards or even making the right play,” Harris said. “So I’m always on him: He knows that I want the best for him.”

Whether it’s a hustle play, clutch defense or a tough inside bucket, Adams’ importance for this Kansas team cannot be overstated.

Before the season, coach Bill Self said KU’s ceiling wouldn’t be reached without Adams scoring. The Jayhawks underscored Self’s point against UK.

The Jayhawks wouldn’t have made their comeback without Adams’ timely buckets.

“He was huge,” McCullar said. “KJ is the most athletic guy in the country; I feel like when he’s playing hard — which is every possession — (it’s) big to have him out there. He battled some foul trouble, but he played smart and he’s an above-the-rim player, for sure.”

Self explained how KU’s strategy revolved around Adams.

“I thought KJ was great,” Self said. “... We were trying to play Hunter on one of their perimeter players and put KJ on the switch four. It actually worked good, except we never switched up … But I thought KJ was great. Other than missing his free throws, I thought he was terrific.”

As the top-ranked Jayhawks chase another championship, they’ll need more terrific play from Adams. His performance in Tuesday night’s marquee showdown against Kentucky was a great start.