VAHE GREGORIAN

Wow time for Wiggins: Freshman star takes quantum leap in KU’s win over Texas

Updated: 2014-02-23T14:26:24Z

By VAHE GREGORIAN

The Kansas City Star

— So here Kansas was, slogging along in the opening minutes Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. Texas looked a step lighter, KU a little tight, and the Longhorns were nabbing every rebound and leading 8-3.

In those fleeting first few minutes, maybe this was going to be a game. Maybe it even would end with the 19th--ranked Longhorns just a game behind the eighth-ranked Jayhawks in the Big 12 race that seemingly has become a KU birthright.

And we’d be left wondering anew about the wandering tendency that still was part of an abundantly gifted team that isn’t allowed to be as young as it actually is.

Then Joel Embiid blocked a shot, and Wayne Selden converted it into a basket.

And after a media timeout, during which coach Bill Self perhaps offered some gentle encouragement, nothing was the same. KU uncorked a 43-10 rampage to end the half on the way to an 85-54 victory.

And there were so many things you could point to in that span: five blocked shots and six rebounds by Embiid; Texas going 8-plus minutes without a basket and missing 23 of 29 field-goal attempts; the Jayhawks seizing 21 of the last 29 rebounds.

Nothing reverberated, though, like Andrew Wiggins, who turns 19 today and steadily has been coming of age and beginning to fulfill his immense promise.

So much so that all of a sudden Wiggins has to be considered a major candidate for Big 12 player of the year. Especially if you subscribe to the concept that he’s the most productive player on the best team … which the Jayhawks are marching closer to demonstrating.

This has been building, but Wiggins’ half (15 points) and night overall (21 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots) punctuated it.

With two dunks and three three-pointers — and two free throws — in a span of 6 minutes, 11 seconds in the decisive streak, Wiggins was evoking fresh wows even as the echoes of the previous one were still caroming around Allen Fieldhouse.

And then there was the fact that it came against Texas, the lead pretender to KU’s throne and an 81-69 victor over the Jayhawks on Feb. 1.

“We got embarrassed at their place; we wanted to do the same thing to them,” Wiggins said, adding, “I was fired up for this game.”

That humbling was only six games back and particularly exasperating for Wiggins.

In Austin, he was stranded somewhere between tentative and off-kilter as he made just two of 12 field goals. He finished with seven points before he fouled out for the first time in his collegiate career.

Never mind that it was the only time in the last 10 games Wiggins hasn’t been in double figures, and that it came immediately after he’d gone for 27 points against TCU and 29 against Iowa State.

Forget that such things just can happen to freshmen on the road, even the most-hyped freshman in the nation.

To those inclined to suggest Wiggins hasn’t been what was anticipated, that was more fodder to downgrade him.

And even to more even-handed observers, it was a reminder that however high Wiggins’ ceiling might be, the future is only here and now for a one-and-done college player.

Lapses are understandable as part of a four-year gestation period, but they are magnified when it’s the fast track. And Wiggins may have more of those in front of him, especially considering the NCAA Tournament is an entirely different crucible for freshmen.

But Wiggins has a foundation and traction under him now, especially as the rest of the team seems to be finding its identity … even if it’s not necessarily the identity Self was seeking on defense.

“We’re not (that),” Self said, “but they are prideful.”

Amid all this is the maturing Wiggins, who was coming off hitting a late game-winner at Texas Tech, and whose 16.4 scoring average puts him on pace to be the leading freshman scorer in KU’s storied history.

Moreover, Wiggins is one of the few Jayhawks pleasing Self with his defense.

“He’s playing great; how can anybody say (otherwise?),” Self said. “The last game, he drove it for us to win the game. This game he shot for us to win the game. And look at the guy he guards.

“The guy he guards usually doesn’t get very many. … I thought he was really good.”

Now the Jayhawks can clinch at least a tie for their 10th straight Big 12 title Monday against Oklahoma.

Winning the league wouldn’t necessarily answer what will become of Kansas in March, which will go some ways toward defining Wiggins’ legacy.

But his steadfast part in all this says he has arrived in time for a team taking form … and in time to be a prospective Big 12 player of the year.

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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