Wilson’s double-double helps Kansas advance to Big 12 Championship, defeat Iowa State 71-58

Published: Mar. 10, 2023 at 8:29 PM CST
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - Kansas started fast and closed strong to advance to the Big 12 Championship Game for the second straight year, defeating the Iowa State Cyclones 71-58.

A hot shooting start for Kansas forward Jalen Wilson gave the Jayhawks an early first half advantage. The first four shots of Wilson’s night -- all jumpers -- fell through the net for the Big 12 Player of the Year.

“I was just trying to be aggressive and was able to hit some shots,” Wilson said, “and continue to make the right plays, winning plays, and they just happened to go in.”

Wilson scored 13 of the Jayhawks first 19 points of the night and helped KU secure itself with a 33-25 lead at the halftime break. By night’s end, he had 25 points and 10 rebounds, good for his 12th double-double of the season and a 71-58 win for the Jayhawks.

“He’s the best player in the country to me in my eyes,” redshirt junior guard Dajuan Harris said of Wilson. “We’ve got to get him more shots. He started out 4-for-4, so if he keeps playing like that, that’s a great sign for us.”

“J-Wil has done it all year,” interim head coach Norm Roberts said following his sixth win of the season as KU’s head man. “We talk about expectations, and things change and expectations don’t. That’s our motto with our team, and our guys have done that all year.”

Iowa State began the second half on a 7-0 run and when senior guard Jaren Holmes knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 17:53 on the clock, Roberts was forced to use a timeout.

Kansas answered with freshman guard Gradey Dick, who hit a contested 3-pointer and a leaning mid-range jumper on consecutive possessions to keep the Cyclones behind on the scoreboard. Minutes later, a Wilson turnover gave the Cyclones an opportunity at the free throw line and a brief lead at 39-38.

Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr. (15) grabs a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college...
Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr. (15) grabs a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa State in the semifinal round of the Big 12 Conference tournament Friday, March 10, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)(Charlie Riedel | AP)

Each time the Cyclones pushed the Jayhawks, KU answered, with Iowa State only leading for 18 seconds on Friday night. Throughout the second half, the KU solution was often the product of something Harris was doing.

“We say to our guys all the time, ‘hey, they’re going to make a run,’” Roberts said. “They made their run, let’s make our run. We’ve been in that situation so much. This league has been unbelievable all year. You’re in wars every single night, so our guys are pretty comfortable in that situation.”

Harris, who took home Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors on Sunday, was a pest on the defensive end and a pick-and-roll maestro on the offensive end. The Columbia, Missouri, native keyed a 10-2 Kansas run during the middle of the second half that gave the Jayhawks a 48-41 lead. On one possession he scored with a floater and on another he found freshman center Ernest Udeh for an alley-oop dunk.

“We played today to the short roll, and our bigs were running today and we found some little gaps to throw in the zone,” Harris said after sophomore forward KJ Adams and Udeh combined to go 5-for-7 shooting the ball. “Really, KJ and (Udeh) were running for us, and that’s really what we want from our bigs.”

Harris finished with 11 points, and six assists to go along with four steals and a block.

Tasked with the responsibility of guarding Iowa State senior guard Gabe Kalscheur, Harris limited the Cyclones’ most efficient guard to a 3-for-12 shooting performance.

“He proved why he was (Big 12) Defensive Player of the Year,” Wilson said of Harris, who has nine steals in two Big 12 Tournament games this weekend. “Dajuan had a tough assignment and to carry that out and also be the floor general that he is is a tough assignment. I’m super proud of him.”

With 3:07 to go in the contest, freshman guard Gradey Dick converted on a contested 3-pointer from the left wing to give the Jayhawks a 62-50 lead. It was his 79th 3-pointer of the season, tying Jeff Boschee for the most by a KU freshman in program history.

“He was passing up a lot of 3s and I kept telling him, ‘keep shooting the ball’ because that’s what he does best. We need him to shoot the ball,” Harris said after Dick had 15 points in Kansas’ 27th win of the season. “He’s one of the best freshmen in the country.”

The Jayhawks shot 52 percent from the floor and forced 22 Iowa State turnovers on the defensive end.

On Saturday, the Jayhawks will take on Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game. It will be the Jayhawks’ 15th appearance in the championship game. KU defeated Texas Tech in the 2022 Big 12 Championship Game. That game will tip-off at 5 p.m. CT in Kansas City.