Wilson Lifts #3 Kansas to Big 12 Championship Game In 71-58 Win Over Iowa State

Kansas senior Jalen Wilson was named the unanimous Big 12 Conference Player of the Year at the conclusion of the regular season. In the first two games of the Big 12 Basketball Championship tournament, he’s played like it.

Wilson posted his second double-double in as many nights, pouring in a game-high 25 points and hauling down 10 rebounds, in leading the Kansas Jayhawks to a 71-58 win over the Iowa State Cyclones on Friday night at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City. The third-ranked Jayhawks, the tournament’s top seed, will defend their tournament championship on Saturday night.

“Our main focus and goal is to win a championship while we’re here,” Wilson said. “We came out ready to play and set the tone by being aggressive.”

“He’s the best player in the country to me,” Kansas guard Dajuan Harris said. “He keeps playing like that, that’s a great sign for us.”

Wilson put his stamp on the game from the jump, making his first four shot attempts with three coming from behind the three-point arc. He had 11 of KU’s first 13 points and helped stake them to a lead that grew to as many as nine points in the half. A 7-2 Cyclones run late in the half closed the gap to four, but the Jayhawks capped the half with four straight points, including a KJ Adams jam in transition, to take a 33-25 lead into the locker room.

Adversity struck the Jayhawks less than one minute into the second half when Kevin McCullar, fighting through back spasms, took himself out of the game and did not return. The loss of McCullar seemed to impact Kansas on both ends, and Iowa State took advantage, taking their first lead of the night on a pair of Demarion Watson free throws with 14:21 to play that made it 39-38, Cyclones. The Jayhawks responded by scoring the next six points and outscoring the Cyclones 19-6 over the next eight minutes, taking their first double-digit lead of the game at 57-47 on a Joseph Yesufu layup. Kansas went 7-for-8 from the free throw line in the final minutes and led by as many as 15 in closing out the game.

Interim head coach Norm Roberts guided the Jayhawks for a second straight game with Bill Self absent for the tournament after being admitted to the hospital with an illness late Wednesday.

“Every time we play Iowa State it’s a war,” Roberts said. “Our guys were fired up and excited to play today.”

Gradey Dick and Harris joined Wilson in double-figure scoring. Dick finished with 15 points and Harris chipped in 11 to go along with six assists. Jaren Holmes‘s 16 points led the Cyclones, with Robert Jones adding 11 points. Kansas shot a scorching 52.3 percent (23-of-44) from the field on offense, and forced 22 Iowa State turnovers on the other end, leading to 25 of their 71 total points.

“We really took them out of what they wanted to do in a lot of ways,” Roberts said.