The Big 12 is arguably the deepest conference in America, yet the same old name remains at the top.
Bill Self's No. 6 Jayhawks remained undefeated in the daunting conference with a 92-81 victory over No. 16 Iowa State at Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday night.
CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein put it boldly:
Death. Taxes. Kansas wins the Big 12 under Bill Self.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) January 30, 2014
En route to its second win over the Cyclones this month, Kansas got major contributions from across the entire starting lineup.
Phenom freshman Andrew Wiggins set a career-high for the second-straight game with 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting, while Perry Ellis missed just four shots all night, pouring in 20 himself. Naadir Tharpe ran the show brilliantly with 12 assists and just one turnover, and Joel Embiid continued to have an impact across the board, scoring 14 points with 11 rebounds, one steal and one block.
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg commented on Wiggins' game, via Kansas First News' Matt Gasper:
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg - "Wiggins is just oozing with confidence and it's scary." #kubball— Matt Gasper (@MattGasper1241) January 30, 2014
Wiggins received some flak at the start of the season, but as Scout.com's Evan Daniels pointed out, it's about time the criticism comes to a halt:
I think its time we all came to agreement that Andrew Wiggins wasn't vastly overrated by some/many coming out of high school.— Evan Daniels (@EvanDaniels) January 30, 2014
Fellow freshman Wayne Selden quietly chipped in 11 points to go with five assists and two steals.
As a team, the Jayhawks shot a scorching 51.6 percent from the field and poured in a season-high 10 three-pointers. Wiggins, looking more and more confident each week, knocked down four of those.
Give Iowa State credit, though. Despite being unable to slow down Kansas' offense, and despite playing in one of the most hostile environments in the country, the Cyclones—much like they've done so many times this season—showed they could take a punch.
After falling behind by 16 points early in the first half, they caught fire from beyond the arc, cutting the halftime deficit to 46-43.
ESPN's Jeff Goodman summed up the first half with a simple statement:
Heck of a half between Kansas and Iowa State.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) January 30, 2014
Fortunately for fans of scintillating battles, we were in for more of the same after the break. Kansas jumped out to a 13-point lead in the opening six minutes of the second half, only for Iowa State to slowly chip back away at the margin, eventually cutting it to one point on a Georges Niang three-pointer with 4:31 remaining.
But then the freshmen took over.
Selden found Embiid for a dunk on the next possession, and Wiggins subsequently scored six straight, capped off by a breakaway dunk that sealed the win and sent the Phog into a frenzy. KU Hoops gave a look at the scene:
Niang led Iowa State with 24 points in defeat, while DeAndre Kane had 22 and Melvin Ejim had 18. The Cyclones shot 48.4 percent from the field and had a bunch of spurts that showed why their offense will make them such a dangerous squad in March.
But knocking off Kansas from the peak of the Big 12? That's a different story.
Joel Embiid, Kansas: A-
No one affects the game quite like Embiid, and that was once again on display.
Player of the Game for Kansas?
Defensively, he may not have finished with the jaw-dropping numbers that we've become accustomed to, but he still changed most of the shots in his area and made his presence known.
On the other end, he was really impressive. He scored with his back to the basket, he scored on a nice turnaround baseline jumper, he passed out of double teams and he gave Kansas a slew of second-chance opportunities with five offensive rebounds.
His versatility is unfair.
DeAndre Kane, Iowa State: B+
Kane's ability to get to the hoop at ease is always a joy to watch.
Whether he was moving without the ball, getting in transition or posting up defenders, the veteran senior was often able to get whatever he wanted on offense, finishing with 22 points.
Although his two rebounds and three assists were below his season averages, Kane was key in helping Iowa State stick around in this one.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: A
Sorry, rest of the country, but Wiggins is getting more comfortable. And it's scary.
The sensational freshman struggled two Saturdays ago against Oklahoma State, but he poured in 44 points last week and continued to absolutely surge tonight with 29 points on just 16 shots.
Most important for Wiggins, he let the game come to him. It's a bit of a cliche, but he didn't force anything on offense, and it resulted in a lot of good shots, which he knocked down. Taking over down the stretch doesn't hurt, either.
Four turnovers and zero assists isn't exactly what you want to see, but when Wiggins is knocking down his jumper like he was on Wednesday, he's an extremely dangerous scorer.
Georges Niang, Iowa State: A-
Niang's first outing of the season against Kansas went about as poor as could be imagined. He hit 4 of 20 shots and was 0 of 9 from beyond the arc on his way to just 11 points in Ames a couple of weeks ago.
Well, he had that many points—with 13 less shot attempts—in the first half on Wednesday night. Niang isn't going to be mistaken for an ultra-athletic player, but he is an extremely skilled one. He can shoot, put the ball on the ground, pass and rebound.
That was all on display, as he finished with 24 points (10-of-17 from the field, 3-of-7 from beyond the arc), four rebounds and five assists.
Kansas heads to Austin for a road contest against the surging Texas Longhorns on Saturday, Feb. 1, while Iowa State continues its gauntlet through Top 25 teams by hosting Oklahoma on the same day.
Kansas has yet to play Texas this year, and the Cyclones lost to OU by five in Norman on Jan. 11.