There must be something in the water in the state of West Virginia because whenever Andrew Wiggins plays in the Mountain State, he puts on an electric performance.
The Kansas freshman forward came to national prominence during his high school years by putting on jaw-dropping aerial shows while playing at Huntington Prep in Huntington, West Virginia and during Saturday’s 92-86 Big 12 loss for No. 8 Kansas at West Virginia, we finally saw the Wiggins that many deemed the best player in college basketball before he ever took the floor in a Jayhawk uniform.
Kansas (23-8, 14-4) might have lost on the road to a West Virginia (17-14, 9-9) team with no NCAA Tournament hopes on Saturday, but they have to be thrilled that the alpha male version of their star freshman finally came to life.
Wiggins was simply astounding in the loss. The freshman hadn’t eclipsed 30 points all season — and averaged 16 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest — but finished with 41 points, eight rebounds, five steals, four blocks and two assists in 39 minutes. Wiggins was 12-for-18 from the field and 15-for-19 from the free throw line and it was a season-high in both field goal and free throw attempts for the freshman.
With Kansas out of timeouts with 17 minutes left and trailing by as much as 25 points to West Virginia in the second half, Bill Self and the Jayhawks damn near rode Wiggins’ super-human effort to victory in what seemed like an impossible uphill climb. Kansas made it a game and trailed, 85-80, with 1:25 remaining, but could never get over the hump as Wiggins didn’t have enough help.
Joel Embiid was out of the lineup and the Kansas guards no-showed on both ends of the floor against West Virginia, but Wiggins had a look in his eyes that we haven’t seen all season and he simply took over. Just look at the photo above of Wiggins soaring in for a dunk on Saturday. You feel bad for the rim he’s about to crush.
If Wiggins plays with the kind of intensity and confidence that he showed on Saturday then he doesn’t have a peer in college basketball. Jabari Parker is more polished and balanced as an offensive threat and Doug McDermott is a much better shooter, but neither have the kind of athleticism to make the plays that Wiggins can make. And that doesn’t even factor in Wiggins’ tremendous ability to rebound and defend on the wing.
The Jayhawks might have squandered a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with Saturday’s loss, but they’ve played the toughest schedule in the country and shouldn’t be too concerned with dropping a seed or two. Kansas still has some legitimate concerns as we near the postseason with Embiid’s health and the consistency of Naadir Tharpe topping that list, but if Andrew Wiggins plays at all like he did at West Virginia on Saturday, he’s personally good enough to overcome a lot of the Jayhawks’ flaws.