It may be oversimplified to say that the roots of Kansas’ 91-69 victory over TCU on Saturday night began in a small, non-descript room that sits just off the main concourse here at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.
But inside this little room, adorned with plain walls and a Coke machine, is where Kansas coach Bill Self once went off. On a late February night last year, Self had watched his team play worse than any team he’d ever coached. So in the moments after a stunning loss at TCU, Self offered up some biting, sarcastic humor.
No Jayhawk team had played that terrible, Self famously said, since the days when KU used to play the Topeka YMCA.
One year later, as the eighth-ranked Jayhawks returned to Daniel-Meyer Coliseum for the first time, it’s safe to say this: The Topeka YMCA wouldn’t have stood a chance.
“We were probably more ready to play,” Self said, sitting in the same room.
For one, how would the Topeka YMCA have matched up with Andrew Wiggins? TCU certainly had no answer. Wiggins finished with a career-high 27 points and five rebounds, showing signs of renewed confidence. For the past week, Self has asked his freshman star for more, riding him in practice and pushing him to make the Jayhawks better. For a night, this was that Wiggins.
“Sometimes you just want to go see him snatch somebody’s head off,” Self would say. “Or be in attack mode all the time. And he’s capable of doing that. But that’s not really who he is.”
Maybe he’s learning. Wiggins had 19 points in the first half while the Jayhawks dropped 53 on TCU — just two shy of the 55 they scored in the upset loss last season. Still, even Wiggins left Saturday wanting more.
“I think from an offensive point of view, it was probably my best game,” Wiggins said. “I was hitting all my shots, hitting all my free throws. But on the other end, I think I could have stepped up more defensively."
If not for Wiggins, we suspect the Topeka YMCA would have also struggled to contain KU freshman center Joel Embiid, who finished with 14 points and six rebounds while shaking off a scary moment in the second half. Embiid appeared to tweak his knee on offense, going down in a heap. But he re-entered the game moments later and appeared to be just fine.
The Jayhawks were already playing without senior Tarik Black, who sat out Saturday’s game after injuring his right ankle in last Monday night’s victory against Baylor. But Black’s absence was a mere afterthought as Kansas (15-4) rolled to a 6-0 start in the Big 12 for the third straight year.
In just six games, the Jayhawks have built a two-game lead in the Big 12. Maybe it’s too early to measure space for the program’s 10th straight Big 12 trophy. But for a night, KU found a way to avoid a letdown against a TCU team that dropped to 9-10 and 0-7 in the Big 12.
It all happened in front of a record crowd of 7,494 inside Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. And maybe some TCU fans were hoping for more history.
On that night last February, when the Jayhawks fell 62-55 in perhaps the biggest upset in Big 12 history, KU finished with just 18 field goals. They shot 29.5 percent, and Self invoked the days of peach baskets and road trips to places like Muscatine and Ottumwa, Iowa.
The Jayhawks don’t play those teams anymore, of course. But it stands to reason that Self wouldn’t have minded a non-conference game against the Topeka YMCA during the early parts of this season. Instead, the Jayhawks were busy playing a rather brutal slate that featured 10 teams that have been ranked in the Associated Press top 25 poll at some point this season.
If Wiggins wanted the chance to build confidence while crushing inferior competition, he never really had the chance. In some ways, Saturday night provided that opportunity. Wiggins surpassed his career high in points, set earlier this year at Florida. But more than that, Self said, he brought a “thirsty” approach to offense that has been missing at times this season.
“When he’s on a roll,” KU freshman Wayne Selden Jr. said, “You never know what you’re going to get from him.”
“He just needs to relax and be him,” Self added. “He can defer a little bit. He can kind of get lost, but he never got lost today. He was able to put his handprint all over the possessions.”
Wiggins would finish eight of 13 from the floor and nine of 10 from the free throw line. And he was aggressive from the start.
“I just thought he played the way he should play every game,” Self said. “I don’t think he’s going to score 19 in a half every game obviously. But I thought, without question, that he didn’t do anything tonight that he couldn’t do in any game.”