Andrew Wiggins remembers things. He can remember the exact scoring averages of the players he’s supposed to defend. He can remember specific shots he’s missed. He can remember how he felt during the last three weeks, when so many shots weren’t falling and Kansas was ending the nonconference season with a 3-3 stretch.
For a freshman who generally chooses his words like a United States senator, rarely offering much, Wiggins’ memory can feel like a vault, filled with tiny pieces of motivation.
For example: In the moments after No. 18 Kansas’ 86-60 destruction of No. 25 Kansas State inside Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon, Wiggins remembered that K-State freshman guard Marcus Foster had entered the day as the second-leading freshman scorer in the Big 12. This meant that Foster, who was averaging 14.1 points per game, was one spot behind Wiggins. And for Wiggins, this was an important piece of information.
So while Wiggins’ offense — 22 points in 33 minutes — carried the Jayhawks to one of their most complete performances of the season, it was his defense on Foster that appeared to break the will of the Wildcats. Foster was limited to seven points on three-of-12 shooting, including only one basket against the 6-foot-8 Wiggins.
“People say he’s one of the best freshmen,” Wiggins said. “So it’s always fun to match up and see where you stand.”
For 40 minutes on Saturday afternoon, this looked like so many other Sunflower Showdown matchups inside Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks dominated, shooting 56 percent and improving to 11-4 overall and 2-0 in the Big 12 Conference. The Wildcats wilted. And really, the only thing that changed was the characters.
Kansas freshman guard Wayne Selden added 20 points on seven-of-10 shooting, and freshman 7-footer Joel Embiid had 11 points and nine rebounds before being ejected late in the second half for a flagrant foul on K-State’s Nino Williams.
That was about the only thing that marred Kansas’ performance Saturday. KU had beaten its rival for the 48th time in 51 games. And with a pivotal road test looming Monday night at No. 9 Iowa State, the Jayhawks’ freshman stars looked ready to shed the training wheels and embrace the Big 12 grind.
“I feel like Wayne and Wiggs are just going out there and playing their game, being loose and having fun,”said junior guard Naadir Tharpe, who had nine assists. “When they play like that, you see what happens.”
On Saturday, this is what happened: The Jayhawks shot 65.5 percent in the first half, building a 45-28 lead while committing zero turnovers.
“I thought that was as efficient a half as we’ve played in a while,” KU coach Bill Self said.
And when Wiggins finally made the Jayhawks’ first turnover with 16:44 left in the second half, he promptly responded by scoring 13 straight points, including a monstrous one-handed dunk after a loose-ball scramble.
“I think I was more calm than I was last game and the games before that,” Wiggins said. “I’m just really letting the game come to me now.”
On Wednesday in Norman, Okla., it was Selden who broke out of a recent offensive slump with a career-high 24 points. Three days later, it was time for Wiggins, who had made just three of 16 three-pointers in KU’s last five games. On Saturday, he knocked down three of four from three-point range.
“I’ve always been a streaky shooter, but I’m just working on consistently having a good shot,” Wiggins said. “That’s all repetition.
When Wiggins was young, he says his father, Mitchell Wiggins, taught him how to shoot and delivered a few important tips. His mechanics were sound, but his shot would naturally change as he got older and stronger.
“I think that’s what it’s doing,” Wiggins said.
In the days before Saturday’s game, as KU’s coaching staff began showing their players videos illustrating the importance of the Sunflower Showdown, Wiggins took notice. He learned that KU led the all-time series 186-91, and he even pulled that fact out on Saturday during the postgame news conference. Only problem: He forgot to add the latest victory.
“It’s tradition,” Wiggins said of beating K-State.
Nearly 30 minutes after Saturday’s victory, after Wiggins sat in the locker room and listened to his coach, he also remembered one final thing. After a couple of frustrating weeks, Wiggins had found a measure of calm on the Allen Fieldhouse court. And somehow, he now only had eight games remaining in the Phog.
“I think I’m just having fun,” Wiggins said. “Like Coach (Self) mentioned today in the locker room, we’ve got eight more games left to play in Allen Fieldhouse, so I’m just trying to enjoy every one of them.”