LAWRENCE — Bill Self kept saying he wanted more from Andrew Wiggins, his freshman star. Others wanted more, too. Outside of Kansas, everyone wanted domination. They couldn’t just settle for just good. They wanted transcendence.
It was unfair, Self said, but ...
“He leaves me wanting more.”
Maybe this latest performance from Wiggins is what Self envisioned — at least for a night. What else could Wiggins do on Wednesday night against Iowa State? Here he was in the final minutes, finishing a follow in traffic after a miss from Joel Embiid. Then driving into the lane and drawing an intentional foul. Then finishing a two-handed slam in transition after a Kansas steal.
It was Wiggins taking over, going into alpha-dog mode with the game in the balance, closing out the 16th-ranked Cyclones with a six-point burst in No. 6 Kansas' 92-81 victory on Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
“A lot of things are slowing down for me,” Wiggins said.
Four days after scoring a career-high 27 points against TCU, Wiggins went two better with 29 points and seven rebounds as the Jayhawks moved to 7-0 in the Big 12 for the third straight season.
“He’s so aggressive right now,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “… That’s scary.”
Perhaps it wasn’t transcendence, or anything like that. How can you really expect an 18-year-old to live up to that kind of hype? But it was a young star rising to the occasion against another Big 12 contender. Wiggins has often been his most complete self when Kansas has played the best teams on its schedule. Earlier this month, he scored 17 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in a 77-70 victory at Iowa State. Here it was again.
“I don’t care what anybody says,” Self said. “He’s been good all year. He just hasn’t lived up to the hype, which is not fair to him because there’s no way he could have.”
Hype can be a fickle thing, of course. But this still appeared to be Wiggins 2.0, a young player learning how to harness his gifts.
“He’s certainly being more aggressive,” Self said.
The game appeared to turn in the final minutes, when Wiggins drew an intentional foul on Iowa State’s Dustin Hogue with 3:27 left. Hogue wrapped up Wiggins, trying to stop a layup, and the foul ignited a minor scrum under the KU basket.
“I thought Dustin was just trying to prevent a layup,” Hoiberg said.
Wiggins felt it was the right call — and felt might have been the right word.
“It hurt,” Wiggins, “So I thought something was wrong. It wasn’t a normal foul.”
Moments later, after Wiggins hit two free throws, he added another bucket on an athletic follow layup. Just like that, a four-point lead had turned into a 79-72 advantage with three minutes left. One possession later, Wiggins finished the run with a two-handed slam in transition. By Wiggins standards, it was a pretty standard jam.
“Better safe than sorry,” Wiggins said.
Of course, the Jayhawks (16-4) become even scarier when you glance at the numbers beyond Wiggins. Sophomore forward Perry Ellis added 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting, while junior guard Naadir Tharpe managed the game with 12 points and 12 assists. And managed might be the right word.
“I always go to him for advice,” Wiggins said after the game. “That’s what we need in a point guard.”
“His ability to get the ball to guys where they can score,” Self said, “it’s getting better all the time."
After nearly surrendering a 30-14 lead in the first half, the Jayhawks buckled down and rode Wiggins’ hot hand to a victory. They maintained their stranglehold on first place in the Big 12. And Wiggins hit 10 of 16 from the field while drilling four of six from the three-point line.
It wasn’t perfect.
After the Jayhawks built a double-digit lead in the second half, the Cyclones cut the lead to 73-72 on a three-pointer from sophomore Georges Niang.
For nearly 10 minutes on Wednesday, the Jayhawks had been a fine-tuned machine, rolling up a 30-14 lead at the 10:41 mark of the first half. By that point, the Jayhawks had more offensive rebounds (six) than Iowa State’s five total rebounds. And that was a pretty good stat to sum up the early destruction.
But then the shots stopped falling, the defense went a little lax, and Iowa State finished the half on a 29-16 run. For the final 10 minutes of the half, it was almost as if Kansas was content to get into a three-point shooting contest.
Not the smartest of plans. The Cyclones finished the night shooting 48 percent and hit 10 of 26 from three-point range. That was six more three-pointers than the Cyclones hit in the 77-70 loss to KU in Ames.
But in the end, the Jayhawks had enough offense. More than that, they had enough Wiggins.
“He’s just going out there and just playing basketball,” Tharpe said. “At the beginning, I talked to him about this a lot. He was going out there trying to think, trying to make everybody else happy. And that’s not what he needs to do. He needs to just play for himself and play for the team.”