KU's ugly road win had entertainment value — if you were watching Jalen Wilson
In a game filled with ugly basketball, one man in a Kansas uniform helped keep the Jayhawks’ Saturday road win at Iowa State at least relatively watchable.
If you happened to zero in on Jalen Wilson and all that he did in a 64-50 victory at Hilton Coliseum it distracted from the other unpleasantness.
The Jayhawks needed every bit of Wilson’s 22 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in 39 minutes, too, because none of the other starters had it rolling on this day in Ames, Iowa.
Asked what he liked about Wilson’s performance, KU head coach Bill Self’s response began with one word: “Everything.”
Self called Wilson, the 6-foot-8 redshirt freshman from Denton, Texas, KU’s best offensive player and rebounder, and lauded Jayhawks’ starting 4-man for knocking down four “big” 3-pointers. Twice in the second half Wilson buried a 3 to extend KU’s lead from single to double figures.
“He picked his spots wisely,” Self said. “He played with pace, poise. I thought he was really, really good.”
Wilson played all but 58 seconds of the Jayhawks’ first road win since Jan. 5 at TCU. And in during less than a minute rest he took, ISU went on a 6-1 run (anything that involved more than three points amounted to a run in that unsightly first half, which ended in a 24-all tie).
When Wilson was on the court, KU outscored Iowa State, 63-44. A month ago, when Wilson’s struggles coincided with the team’s worst basketball of the season, the idea of him delivering again the way he did in December seemed a long ways off.
Turns out it was. And Wilson didn’t turn a corner overnight. He’s been trending this direction of late, culminating with his fourth consecutive double-double.
Once he began focusing his attention and energy on the glass, he got headed back in the right direction.
“I think that’s something that definitely gets me going and helps my team, me starting on the defensive end rebounding and being aggressive on that,” Wilson said. “And then my offense will come naturally. I don’t really worry about every single game. I just approach every single time I get on the court to defensive rebound and be aggressive on that end and everything else will come.”
When David McCormak is subpar offensively inside, like he was in the first half at ISU, it’s imperative for another Jayhawk to step up and produce. Otherwise this team has no chance.
The game actually could’ve been even uglier for KU had Wilson not scored 10 points in the first half, when he also grabbed five rebounds and was the only starter to hit a 3-pointer, making two.
McCormack improved in the second half, but he appreciated how Wilson made an impact throughout the road win.
“Jalen played to his strengths,” McCormack said. “Driving downhill, getting and-ones, shooting the ball, playing with confidence, playing with energy. That’s what he does best. And that’s what he did today.”
As Wilson has regained his consistency — he’s averaging 16.3 points and 11.5 boards in KU’s past four games — he said his teammates’ continued confidence in him helped him get back to this point.
The Jayhawks (15-7 overall, 9-5 Big 12) have needed Wilson all season. When he exploded onto the scene in December, KU lived up to its top-five ranking. While he couldn’t maintain that level of consistency throughout the schedule, a late season resurgence would be perfect for this mercurial team.
“I think he had so much success early,” Self said of Wilson, “it got him a little bit to the point where he was trying to force the success when he wasn’t having the same opportunities.”
Whether it’s Wilson picking his spots better or just him getting used to playing as the 4-man with one of KU’s bigs (the Jayhawks spent much more time in five-guard lineups featuring Wilson early in the season), the redshirt freshman seems past his rough patch.
“He’s just kind of figuring it out,” Self said. “But he’s been really good. He’s playing the right way.”
That “right way” line, one former KU head coach Larry Brown made popular, is the ultimate compliment. And Self wouldn’t have been able to say it about Wilson just a few weeks back, when the young player’s struggles came across in his body language, too.
Now Wilson’s not forcing the issue or worrying about his scoring. He’s just pounding the glass and making his team better — even on days when KU isn’t aesthetically pleasing as a whole.
“My teammates were looking for me, as we all look for each other,” Wilson said after standing out. “The ball just found me in good places, to shoot the ball in open spots, and I was able to hit them.”
These Jayhawks should take a win wherever they can find one. And if it comes against an Iowa State team that turns the ball over 23 times and is winless in Big 12 play, then so be it.
The viewers don’t have to be entertained for a Kansas basketball victory to benefit the team. Especially this season.
At least observers who were watching Wilson found enough entertainment value to keep tuned in.