Ames, Iowa Wayne Simien desperately wanted to play.
But he, his coach, his teammates -- heck, even his parents -- didn't know if Simien, Kansas University's senior All-America candidate, would be able to answer the bell for the first time in five games for Wednesday's Kansas-Iowa State Big 12 Conference battle at Hilton Coliseum.
"It all came down to the refs' decision, to see if they approved the cast I was in," said Simien.
A soft cast, tape and gray Nike glove on Simien's surgically repaired left thumb received the officials' seal of approval during warmups just minutes before tipoff.
"It definitely was a relief. It definitely was good to be back. I didn't know I'd play 37 minutes," gasped the 6-foot-9, 255-pound power forward, who collected 13 points and nine rebounds in the Jayhawks' 71-66 victory before 13,009 fans.
Simien may have shown a few signs of rust the first half in scoring four points with four boards in 18 minutes, helping the Jayhawks take a slim 38-35 lead at the break.
He came up big the second half, however, when KU (12-0 overall, 2-0 Big 12) needed it the most against the Cyclones (8-5, 0-2), who have lost just two of their last 27 games at Hilton.
Simien hit a three-pointer and turn-around jumper to open the second-half scoring. The 10-foot jumper came right after his first try was swatted by Jared Homan.
Simien hit another turn-around jumper to bust a 54-all tie with 6:39 left, his bucket following a pair of Keith Langford free throws that answered a 10-0 Iowa State run that had given the Cyclones a 54-52 lead.
The Jayhawks, who especially needed Simien with Christian Moody sidelined with an ankle sprain, never trailed again.
"It's a bit bulky," Simien said of the cast on his thumb that he said wasn't the cause of his 2-of-6 free-throw shooting. "Shooting-wise, it didn't bother me. I pulled down some boards that I usually grab left-handed. Other than that, it didn't bother me at all."
Simien had his thumb whacked more than once.
"No pain at all," said the player who was out of action 23 days after undergoing surgery on Dec. 20.
The original prognosis called for him to be out four to six weeks.
"I took a few shots on it," Simien said. "I took a few shots on it in practice before the game to make sure it was OK. It may have startled me, but no pain, no worries."
All KU backers had fewer worries with Simien back on board helping make up for the absence of Moody, who is expected to be in the lineup Saturday at Colorado.
"It would have been very difficult for us to win without him," coach Bill Self said, referring to Moody's absence. "I'm sure it had something to do with Wayne being adamant about playing."
Simien said that, though the Jayhawks missed Moody, that's not why Simien suited up.
"I just wanted to try to focus on playing all week," Simien said. "Christian can do some good things for us, definitely, but that had no effect at all."
The Jayhawks learned Simien would be playing in the locker room before the game. Self had talked to the doctors and Simien's parents, receiving the go-ahead from those important parties. The refs got the last word.
"I knew he wanted to play," said point guard Aaron Miles, who had eight points and five assists on a night Langford led the way with 18 points and helped hold Curtis Stinson to 18 on 6-of-20 shooting.
"When we heard, everybody was like, 'Welcome back, Dub.' We needed him back."
|13, 9Points, rebounds by KU's Wayne Simien54.3Kansas' field-goal shooting percentage18Three-pointers attempted by each team8, 5Threes made by KU, Iowa State|
Simien's dad, Wayne, Sr., who was sitting in the stands and had agreed with doctors' prognosis that the player was healthy enough to play, nonetheless was thrilled when his son took the floor for the opening tip.
"We had no idea he'd play. He didn't tell us for sure," Wayne Sr. said. "We knew it'd be a game-time decision. We never thought he'd play 37 minutes. It'd been wearing on him. He wanted to get out there to help the team win."
All four seniors, plus freshman Alex Galindo, played key roles down the stretch Wednesday.
How did Simien make it back in the lineup so soon?
"You know, I'm sure there was some divine intervention. He healed quicker than people thought. We've got to thank the man upstairs," Simien Sr. said.
And Simien himself deserves credit, too. He was hardly winded playing all but three minutes.
"I did a lot of conditioning work at practice, even though I couldn't play," Simien said. "It was important to still get a lot of work in."
KU will travel to Colorado on Saturday for a 3 p.m. tipoff.