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The Day After: Iowa State
There was no bank shot and no overtime in this one, but the Jayhawks' latest victory over Iowa State at Allen Fieldhouse certainly had plenty of drama.
A game that began with the look of a Kansas blowout turned into a one-possession game late, with the 16th-ranked Cyclones charging hard and the home crowd roaring to help keep No. 6 Kansas ahead.
In the end, a career-best performance by KU freshman Andrew Wiggins proved to be enough to give the Jayhawks their seventh win in a row and their second victory in two weeks over a tough Iowa State team.
While Wiggins stole the show with his scoring explosion, Perry Ellis' first half (15 points on 7-of-8 shooting) played a huge part in the victory, as did another fantastic game from point guard Naadir Tharpe.
Wednesday's victory pushed KU to 16-4 overall and 7-0 in Big 12 play and set the Jayhawks up with a golden opportunity to take complete control of the conference race heading into back-to-back road games at Texas (Saturday) and Baylor (Tuesday).
I'm not sure enough credit is being given to what the Jayhawks have done this month against the Cyclones. Iowa State is darn good. They opened the season with 14 straight victories, can shoot from distance as well as just about any team in the country and can score from all five spots on the floor and create tough mismatches for opponents because of it. Despite all of that, the Jayhawks basically handled ISU for 80 minutes. Yes, the Cyclones made a couple of runs and looked sharp in doing it, but Kansas controlled the majority of both games and did so behind the strength of different players stepping up at different times. This team is gaining more confidence every time out.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Andrew Wiggins is on a roll and only getting better. After going for a career-high 27 points in the victory over TCU, Wiggins one-upped himself with a 29-point outing against Iowa State. His shot looks good every time he lets it go and he's done a much better job of finishing during recent weeks. ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said after that game that Wiggins is oozing with confidence right now and went as far as to call that fact “scary.” Two of the best parts about Wiggins' 29-point night on Wednesday? He reached that number by taking just 16 shots and only went to the free throw line six times.
2 – The offense as a whole is playing so much off of instinct right now. Rather than thinking too much and worrying about where to be and when to be there, the Jayhawks are just being. Every player seems to know his role inside and out and, more importantly, appears to be comfortable playing to it. Passes are moving quicker and being thrown crisper and the offense has a real good feel for when to pull it out and reset and when to attack.
3 – Joel Embiid finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds and it seemed like he had a pretty ho-hum night. That's the sign of a big-time player. Two of Embiid's best plays of the night? In the first half, he grabbed a rebound, gathered to go up for the put-back, tripped over an Iowa State player laying in the lane and still managed to keep his balance enough to finish the play. Later, when ISU big man Georges Niang attacked the right side and ducked under the rim to try a reverse layup, Embiid, who was leaning to protect the right side, stopped on a dime and still managed to swat Niang's shot with his off hand. That's No. 1-pick type stuff right there.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – Opponents' points at the rim (again)... Iowa State scored 28 of its 81 points on Wednesday on layups or dunks. That number (35 percent) wasn't quite as bad as the 43-percent mark that Kansas State enjoyed a couple of weeks ago, though it was a higher number of points (28 compared to 26). The Jayhawks have made progress in this department, but opponents too often continue to find it too easy to score inside.
2 – It looked, to me, like the Jayhawks might have momentarily thought this one was over when they went up 30-14 midway through the first half. As KU coach Bill Self said after the game, the Jayhawks played about as well as they could've during the game's first 10 minutes, but, after building that kind of lead there's no way that ISU should've been within three points at halftime. Don't get me wrong, the Cyclones deserve credit for battling back. But KU did its best to help them. The ill-advised Joel Embiid three-pointer, a few careless passes and too many quick shots come to mind.
3 – Thanks to 29 points from Wiggins and 20 more from Perry Ellis, KU did not need much from its bench in this one. Good thing, too, because it got next to nothing. Brannen Greene and Frank Mason each hit one three-pointer, which accounted for all of the bench scoring the Jayhawks got in this one. Fortunately for Kansas, the starters were sharp from start to finish in this one. Had all five guys not been, the outcome might have been different. To be fair, it's worth pointing out that KU reserves Tarik Black (ankle) and Conner Frankamp (knee) did not play.
One thought for the road:
The Jayhawks' second win over Iowa State in 16 days:
• Kept Kansas as the only undefeated team in Big 12 play at 7-0
• Made KU 7-0 in conference play for the third-straight season and the sixth time in the Bill Self era
• Gave the Jayhawks their fifth win over a top-25 ranked opponent over the last six games
• Made the Kansas-Iowa State all-time series 175-59 in favor of KU, including 49-9 in Allen Fieldhouse
• Gave Kansas its fifth-straight win versus Iowa State
• Made KU 9-1 in Allen Fieldhouse this season, 170-9 under Bill Self and 708-109 all-time in the venue
• Made Bill Self 21-3 all-time against ISU (20-3 while at KU), 316-63 while at Kansas and 523-168 overall
• Made KU 2,117-816 all-time
The Jayhawks will head out onto the road for the next two games, starting with Saturday's 3 p.m. tip-off at Texas. After that, they'll play Baylor at 6 p.m. on Feb. 4 before returning home to face West Virginia at 3 p.m. on Feb. 8.