Vahe Gregorian

After thumping Kansas State, Jayhawks show they are force to be reckoned with

Updated: 2014-01-12T16:04:42Z

By VAHE GREGORIAN

The Kansas City Star

— It might be eye-rolling, redundant old news here, the way Kansas muzzles Kansas State in basketball again and again and again and over and over and over.

But on the hunch it hadn’t resonated in Cameroon or Canada or Roxbury, Mass., and everywhere else this raw but gifted Jayhawk team came from, KU coach Bill Self jammed his players with video testimony to the energy it had taken to win 47 of the last 50 in the increasingly lopsided series.

Apparently, it seeped through: 18th-ranked KU clobbered the 25th-ranked Wildcats 86-60 on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse in what might seem just another ho-hum, inevitable win in the series that Kansas has dominated.

“What are we, up 186-91 now?” said freshman Andrew Wiggins, who led Kansas with 22 points after scoring 13 in a row in the second half.

The victory, he added, “extended the lead to show that we’re the most dominant team in Kansas.”

Even if Wiggins had forgotten to account for the latest win on the ledger, sixth-ranked Wichita State, 17-0 after its 72-69 overtime win Saturday night at Missouri State, might have something to say about his statement.

For that matter, K-State could object … but would be overruled even with the rematch at Bramlage Coliseum awaiting.

But the ultimate issue, of course, isn’t so much quibbling about how KU ranks in the state as where it’s headed nationally.

And as easy as it might be to dismiss what happened Saturday as just another birthright thumping of the Wildcats, it was more than that against a team that remains intriguing itself even if can’t solve KU.

Remember, too, that the Wildcats, 12-4, only a week ago had beaten then-No. 6 Oklahoma State as they were compiling a 10-game winning streak.

For the Jayhawks, this was a meaningful strand in the DNA of a still-forming force just six days after they had fallen for the fourth time in their first 13 games and in Allen, no less, against San Diego State.

Anyone who really thought, or still thinks, Kansas was in jeopardy of a mediocre season would do well to re-examine that after the last two games and accounting for the benefits of the ambitious nonconference scheduling.

Consider Self’s true mastery of psychology and a team oozing talent and wanting to please, Kansas will make for a thorny matchup when it matters most in March.

That doesn’t guarantee a Final Four, or even yet another Big 12 title or even a win on Monday in what figures to be an emotional cauldron at No. 9 Iowa State, 14-1.

But it does mean this team is going to be representative of the sum of its considerable parts.

Sure, KU has plenty of room to get better, especially on the defensive end.

“They are nowhere near as good defensively as they were a year ago,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said, citing the maturity of that team.

But it also has flashed a different sort of grit and cohesiveness with the start of Big 12 play, beginning with the 90-83 win Thursday at Oklahoma.

The start of league play, Self said, “kind of renewed us.”

That was further evident in the dissection Saturday of the K-State defense in the pivotal first half.

The Jayhawks hit 19 of 29 field goals (65.5 percent) and distributed 14 assists … with zero turnovers.

That would be hard to do against air, let alone a K-State team that was ninth in the nation in scoring defense (58 points a game) and had allowed opponents to shoot just 36.7 percent during the 10-game winning streak.

“We let them move the ball freely,” Weber said, later adding, “We never disrupted them.”

Wiggins and Wayne Selden (20 points) were examples of that, though fellow freshman starter and burgeoning star Joel Embiid encountered a less-resistant day.

While he hit his first collegiate three-pointer and had 11 points and nine rebounds, Embiid rightly was tossed from the game with a flagrant 2 technical foul for a cheap elbow at the Wildcats’ Nino Williams after what appeared to be some routine jousting.

This wasn’t the extra notch of toughness that Self has been seeking from Embiid but, in fact, the opposite.

It also happens to be a convenient coachable moment for a team starting to morph into its true personality, gravitating toward that sweet spot where it can play with both intensity and “calm,” which is how Wiggins described himself on Saturday.

And just because such a moment came against K-State, again, doesn’t mean it doesn’t mean more in the bigger scheme of things.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4366 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/vgregorian.

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