Lonely loss: Despite 26 points from Jalen Wilson, No. 8 Kansas falls 68-53 at No. 13 Iowa State

Kansas forward Jalen Wilson reacts after being called for a foul during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa State, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Ames, Iowa — The Iowa State student section had it right on Saturday at Hilton Coliseum, constantly ribbing the visiting Jayhawks with commentary about their lack of depth.

“Wilson, you’ve got no help. No one is helping you,” one student yelled toward KU junior Jalen Wilson.

Earlier, after Wilson scored two of his 26 points on a tough take to the rim midway through the second half, a different student matter-of-factly shared, “Doesn’t matter. They’re not helping you.”

That was exactly the way eighth-ranked KU’s 68-53 loss to No. 13 Iowa State unfolded. Wilson led all scorers with 26 points but the Jayhawks trailed for 38:21 of the 40-minute game and spent very little of that time looking like they actually had a chance.

“It was a typical us to play poorly and Jalen try to carry us (game),” KU coach Bill Self said after the loss. “And that’s not a formula for success for us.”

It’s no secret that Wilson is important to this KU team. He entered the day leading the Big 12 in both scoring and rebounding and got off to the kind of hot-shooting start from 3-point range that made you think he would be able to keep Kansas in the game. But as the game wore on, and the Cyclones wore him down, no one in blue stepped up to join him and ISU ran away for its first victory over Kansas on its home floor since 2019.

No one else on the Kansas roster scored better than eight points on Saturday, and that came from reserve guard Joe Yesufu, who scored five of his points when the game was already long decided.

The other four Kansas starters combined to score 18 points on 7-of-21 shooting, while the Cyclones had six players score between eight and 15 points in the double-digit victory.

Wilson, who remains a strong contender for both Big 12 Player of the Year and a national All-American, now has scored 20 or more points in six consecutive games. He added nine rebounds and drew nine fouls while knocking in 9 of 11 at the free throw line in Saturday’s loss.

“It’s very important,” said sophomore forward KJ Adams when asked how critical it was for Kansas to give Wilson some help. “He gets tired just like everyone else, so it’s hard for him to play that many minutes and try to score and play defense on the other end. Us giving him another offensive presence really helps him. When he’s well rested, he doesn’t have to shoot all those shots that we make him take. We’ve just got to help him and take off a little of the load that he carries every game.”

Self agreed.

“Those core players have to perform and play better,” he said. “Today, we only had one guy play well at all. That was obviously Jalen.”

Much of the first half was about Kansas (18-5 overall, 6-4 Big 12) responding to the punch thrown by Iowa State to open the game. The Cyclones had better energy, more fire and better execution in the game’s opening minutes, building leads of 13-5 and 15-8 early on.

The Jayhawks stayed in it, though, mostly thanks to Wilson’s hot shooting from 3-point range and competitive fire everywhere else. Those two things allowed Kansas to cut the ISU lead to 20-18 midway through the first half. But the Cyclones finished the half on a 13-3 run that put the Jayhawks back into a sizable hole.

“Believe it or not, I actually thought we had some good possessions early and missed a lot of shots,” Self said. “But after that we didn’t have very many good possessions at all. They were better than us from start to finish. We were fortunate to only be down two (at 20-18) and then, obviously, we didn’t finish the half well at all.”

Kansas trailed 33-21 at the break, but showed the kind of response to open the second half that Self and his coaching staff had hoped to see at the start of the game.

Dajuan Harris Jr. scored on a floater to get things started. Wilson then added five in a row and Gradey Dick finally got something positive to go, flushing a dunk on a backdoor cut to trim the ISU lead to 36-31. More important than the points on the board was the fact that the Jayhawks emerged from the locker room ready and willing to compete.

“If we could just bottle how we played the first possession of the second half, we’d probably be a much better team,” Self pointed out. “But we don’t have that ball and body movement consistently.”

“You guys have heard me say that. We need balance from our starting five, and when one guy has to feel like he’s got to go do it all on his own, it crashes the offense. But we have to do that or (we) wouldn’t be able to score the ball because of such poor ball and body movement.”

Self said prior to Saturday’s game — and again after it was over — that the team that woke up first would be in the best position. By the 16-minute mark of the second half, it looked as if both teams were fully awake. But Iowa State responded to KU’s run with an 11-3 run of its own to reclaim a double-digit lead and the Jayhawks were never again within striking distance.

“It takes just one momentum play to get things going again,” Wilson said. “We see it all the time when we’re at home. We just can’t let certain plays happen like that.”

Asked what Self told the team in the locker room after the loss, Wilson said the message was simple.

“That we’ve got to get out to better starts,” he said. “On the road, it’s already difficult enough and we’ve got to come ready to play. There’s no excuse for being not prepared to play, no matter what time of day it is. That’s on us.”

Iowa State (16-6, 7-3) had something to do with it. The Cyclones forced 20 Kansas turnovers and scored 19 points off of those turnovers, with 12 more coming on second-chance points, as well.

“We weren’t very good early… middle or late,” Self said, shortly after entering the postgame press conference with the words, “It’s like a damn morgue in here. It’s OK.”

Self added: “I thought Iowa State defended us perfectly, and I thought our defense was very lackluster. We did nothing to make them play bad. … It appeared to me that they probably got 70-80% of all the balls that were 50-50 and that’s usually a true indication of energy and effort.”

Next up, Kansas will look to regroup on a short turn-around before playing host to Big 12 leader Texas at 8 p.m. Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse.


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