The Kansas Jayhawks prevailed 77-70 in overtime in the Big 12 tournament’s quarterfinals Friday against an Oklahoma State team that was red-hot coming into the matchup.
One thing was certain throughout the back-and-forth affair though—Andrew Wiggins is ready for the bright lights of college basketball in March.
The freshman superstar finished with 30 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block and hit three shots from behind the three-point arc and went 9-of-10 on the line.
He consistently made critical plays in the final minutes of regulation and overtime on both ends. There was a moment late in the contest when Wiggins flushed down an incredible alley-oop finish over multiple defenders to electrify the crowd in Kansas City and seize back the momentum.
This was the Wiggins that basketball fans expected when he dominated the offseason headlines by committing to Bill Self and Kansas.
Wiggins struggled to live up to the incredible hype early in the year, as could almost be expected for an 18-year-old kid under such immense pressure. We saw glimpses of his brilliance—the 26 points and 11 rebounds at Florida immediately comes to mind—but inconsistency was the overwhelming theme.
However, with March Madness approaching, he has absolutely hit his stride, as Jeff Goodman of ESPN pointed out:
In the last 15 games, Wiggins has failed to reach double-digit scoring only twice and posted point totals of 27, 29, 30 and 41 in that stretch. The freshman has been aggressive with the drive, which leads to more free throws, easier opportunities at the rim and clear looks for teammates when the defense collapses.
From a physical and athleticism standpoint, few teams in the country have a defender capable of matching up with Wiggins.
Wiggins has carried the team on the offensive end, especially in Embiid’s absence, and may have to do so for the foreseeable future.
Embiid will likely be out for some time, which is unfortunate given the timing of the injury, as Bill Self pointed out, via Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star: “It’s nothing where he won’t be feeling great in four weeks with some rest. But we don’t have four weeks.”
Without Embiid, opposing defenders have been even more focused on stopping Wiggins, which makes the fact that he torched West Virginia and Oklahoma State in the past two games even more impressive.
He is playing more like a senior than a freshman at this point in the season, as ESPN’s Myron Medcalf noted:
While the offense is what jumps out, Wiggins is also an underrated defender and solid rebounder. His length allows him to impact shots and dart into passing lanes, and this overall game to accompany his elite scoring is what has NBA scouts licking their lips.
Looking forward, the game often slows down in March as the conference and NCAA tournaments heat up.
Half-court possessions in the final minutes are what ultimately decide the outcome, and Kansas has a go-to scorer who can create his own shot and a formidable defender who can help his team win on either end in Wiggins.
The Jayhawks could not have asked for a better time for their freshman sensation to peak with critical postseason games on the immediate docket and Embiid nursing a stress fracture.
This may be Wiggins' only chance at March Madness. Look for him to make the most of it.
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