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Now 'playing the right way,' Jalen Wilson keys KU basketball's 64-50 victory at Iowa State

Matt Galloway
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas basketball forward Jalen Wilson takes a shot around Iowa State's Tre Jackson, back, and Javan Johnson during the second half of Saturday's game at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. Wilson scored 22 points in the Jayhawks' 64-50 victory.

Back-to-back matchups with last-place Iowa State proved a perfect pick-me-up for Kansas basketball, which as expected brushed aside the Cyclones for a second time in three days.

And while it’s too late for the Jayhawks to undo the damage caused by their midseason swoon, the biggest contributor to Saturday’s result argued they’re more than capable of making up for that lull when it matters most.

“This is what we should be doing. This is what we should’ve been doing all season,” said redshirt freshman forward Jalen Wilson. “We’re focused now. We’re ready for this stretch, for the last few games of the Big 12. We’re focused and prepared for anything.”

ISU would likely vouch for that.

Wilson scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his fourth straight double-double, guiding KU out of its sluggish offensive start and to a 64-50 victory over the Cyclones at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. The Jayhawks, who routed ISU 97-64 on Thursday in Lawrence, have now won three straight games, all by double-digits.

Saturday’s win also snapped a five-game road losing skid for KU (15-7, 9-5 Big 12), which moved into a tie for second place in the league standings with four games remaining in its regular season. The Jayhawks and Oklahoma are both 2½ games behind first-place and undefeated Baylor. 

“This is a different year. There’s a lot of challenges and everything. The guys have been great,” said KU coach Bill Self. “We went through our rut and hopefully the rut is over and now we can play our best ball.”

Wilson certainly answered that call Saturday.

The Jayhawks and Cyclones (2-14, 0-11) were locked at 27-all at halftime following a disjointed offensive start for both teams — KU shot just 28.6% from the floor in the opening half, while ISU committed 15 turnovers. A Wilson jumper kick-started a 6-0 finish to the frame for his squad, which also scored the first six points out of intermission to take a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

The Cyclones did manage to cut their deficit to three, 40-37, with just under 10 minutes to play, but four consecutive free throw makes by Wilson created some breathing room. Ochai Agbaji’s 3-pointer pushed the visitors’ lead to 10, and after a jumper by ISU’s Javan Johnson, Wilson responded with his own 3 for a 50-39 lead with 7:46 remaining.

KU coasted the rest of the way, never letting its advantage dip below eight points.

“That was not a very artistic game by any stretch, but we would’ve taken winning by 14 — or five or seven or one — before the game started up here,” Self said. “Certainly happy we got the win. Certainly not very good offense, but we did guard for 40 minutes, so I was happy with that.”

Wilson finished 7-for-15 shooting with four made 3s, adding four assists and just one turnover in 39 minutes. That outing helped offset an afternoon that saw KU shoot 35.8% from the floor and 7 for 23 from beyond the arc.

The 6-foot-8, 215-pound forward, who was a revelation across the Jayhawks’ first six games, said placing an emphasis on the right things — defense and rebounding, to name two — has proven key in his ability to shake the rough patch that followed his hot start. Wilson is averaging 14.3 points and 12 rebounds in KU’s three-game winning streak.

Asked what he liked about Wilson’s play Saturday, Self responded: “Everything.”

“I thought he was great,” Self continued. “He was our best offensive player. He was our best rebounder. He picked his spots wisely (and) played with pace, poise. I thought he was really, really good.”

Self observed that Wilson’s early-season success may have caused him to try to force the issue when he started not getting similar opportunities, particularly when the bulk of his minutes shifted from playing the five in an all-small lineup to manning the four alongside junior forward David McCormack, whose own improved play seemed to coincide with Wilson's midseason decline.

“(Wilson) is kind of getting used to now a big playing, David playing or Mitch (Lightfoot), so his shots are coming from different areas than they were when we were playing five guards,” Self said. “He just kind of figured it out. But he’s been really good. He’s playing the right way.”

McCormack had 13 points and Christian Braun 11 to round out the Jayhawks' double-figure scorers. Jalen Coleman-Lands' 20 points led the way for ISU, which attempted 22 fewer shot attempts than KU.

“Even if we couldn’t throw a ball into the ocean, we had a slow start, but we know that our frustration can be taken out on defense,” McCormack said. “If we can’t shoot or make shots, we’re going to make sure that they can’t, as well. I think that’s where our energy and our spark came from.”

A 7 p.m. Wednesday matchup against Kansas State in Manhattan now awaits the Jayhawks, who are scheduled to finish their regular season with contests against No. 7 Texas Tech (1 p.m. Feb. 20 in Lawrence), No. 13 Texas (8 p.m. Feb. 23 in Austin, Texas) and No. 2 Baylor (7 p.m. Feb. 27 in Lawrence).

“We’ve got three ranked teams and our in-state rival left,” Self said, “so that right there should be motivation that we’ve got four games the guys should be excited to play, without question.”

KANSAS 64, IOWA STATE 50

KANSAS (15-7, 9-5 Big 12)

Garrett 1-4 2-2 4, Braun 5-11 0-0 11, Wilson 7-15 4-5 22, Agbaji 3-10 2-3 9, McCormack 6-12 1-2 13, Grant-Foster 0-1 0-0 0, Harris 0-0 0-0 0, Enaruna 1-3 0-0 3, Thompson 0-5 0-0 0, Lightfoot 1-6 0-0 2. Totals 24-67 9-12 64.

IOWA STATE (2-14, 0-11 Big 12)

Coleman-Lands 6-14 5-5 20, Johnson 2-4 0-0 5, Walker 1-2 0-0 2, Young 4-10 0-0 8, Bolton 3-8 7-8 13, Harris 0-3 0-0 0, Jackson 0-1 0-0 0, Conditt 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 17-45 12-13 50.

Half — Tied at 24. 3-point goals — Kansas 7-23 (Wilson 4-8, Enaruna 1-1, Braun 1-5, Agbaji 1-6, Thompson 0-1, Garrett 0-2), Iowa State 4-11 (Coleman-Lands 3-7, Johnson 1-2, Bolton 0-1, Harris 0-1). Rebounds — Kansas 36 (Wilson 10), Iowa State 37 (Walker 14). Assists — Kansas 15 (Garrett 5), Iowa State 7 (Walker 4). Turnovers — Kansas 9 (McCormack 3), Iowa State 23 (Walker 6). Blocks — Kansas 3 (Agbaji 2), Iowa State 3 (Conditt 2). Steals — Kansas 10 (Garrett 5), Iowa State 1 (Walker). Total fouls — Kansas 13, Iowa State 17. Fouled out — McCormack, Johnson. Technical fouls — none. Officials — Natili, Crawford, Pettigrew. Attendance — 1,320.