University of Kansas

No. 8 Kansas shakes off sluggish start, beats Baylor 69-52

Updated: 2014-02-05T07:00:14Z

By RUSTIN DODD

The Kansas City Star

— He had gone scoreless for 19 minutes, 59 seconds, another lost half for Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins.

Maybe it was Baylor’s zone, or Kansas’ desire to play inside-out. Maybe it was just a general hangover after the eighth-ranked Jayhawks had suffered their first Big 12 loss at Texas on Saturday..

Whatever it was, it was glaring: For nearly 20 minutes on Tuesday night, Wiggins was draped in a Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak.

“I wasn’t in the flow of the game,” Wiggins would say.

And then, out of nowhere, there was a bolt of lightning: In the final seconds before halftime, Wiggins picked off a lob pass and hit a running buzzer-beater from nearly 50 feet, the shot you’ve probably seen replayed over 50 times by Wednesday morning.

"It did feel good to me," Wiggins would say.

In the moment, it just meant the difference between a five-point halftime lead and eight-point lead. But if you believe in omens, it was pretty clear. Kansas would find a way to escape Baylor with a victory on Tuesday night. Wiggins was about to break out of an extended scoring slump. And by the end, the Jayhawks and Wiggins had done both.

Kansas 69, Baylor 52.

By the end, after Naadir Tharpe had regained his scoring mojo, and Wiggins had broken his cold spell, the Jayhawks were rolling again. Kansas (17-5 and 8-1 in the Big 12,) had picked up another road victory in its pursuit of a 10th straight Big 12 title.

Tharpe finished with a team-high 22 points — one off his career high — while Wiggins had 14 points and seven rebounds. It wasn’t the prettiest 14-point performance, of course. But it all started with a 50-foot heave.

Wiggins said he hadn’t hit a half-court shot since his junior year of high school. (“End of the second quarter,” he said.) But at the end of KU practices, a few players always stick around and throw up half-court heaves.

“We do it sometimes just to joke around,” Wiggins said, smiling. “I’m usually with guys that don’t usually make them.”

A month ago, Wiggins says, he might not have been able to shake off the early struggles. By early in the second half, Wiggins had hit just one of nine from the field. If you included his two-of-12 performance against Texas on Saturday, he had connected on just three of his last 21 field-goal attempts — and one was a 50-footer.

“A couple weeks ago, when I would play bad, I would get all down on myself,” Wiggins said. “But I know scoring is not everything. You can still do stuff to get stuff open for your teammates. You can still affect the game.”

On Tuesday, Wiggins did that in more subtle ways. He snatched seven rebounds and handed out five assists. He recorded three steals. He pitched in on a defensive effort that held Baylor to a season-low 52 points and just 29.1 percent shooting.

“There’s that saying that “Defense does travel,” Self said. “And it didn’t travel to Austin (for the loss at Texas). And certainly, we’ve got to grow up, and understand on the road: It’s not as much as us playing really well, it’s about making other opponents playing poorly.”

In the days after the Texas loss, the Jayhawks regrouped and focused on defense. For a night, the energy returned. The Jayhawks outrebounded Baylor 45-31. They shot 46.3 percent from the floor. They survived an average night from freshman center Joel Embiid, who had five points and seven rebounds while battling foul trouble.

All in all, they got back to Self’s core philosophy.

“We were more turned up,” Self said.

Some of that, of course, can be credited to Tharpe, who was nine of 13 from the field after a sluggish performance against Texas.

“That wasn’t Kansas basketball at all,” Tharpe said of the Texas loss. “Me being a point guard and leading this team, I was real down on myself. I didn’t do anything to help the team.”

In other ways, Wiggins is learning this, too. It’s not about scoring; it’s about doing things to help his team win. And yes, it helps when you’re drilling half-court shots.

“It helped my confidence a lot, because instead of going into the half scoreless, I scored,” Wiggins said. “Still, my shot wasn’t falling. I wasn’t really in the flow of the game, so I just tried to help my teammates.”

To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to rdodd@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/rustindodd.

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