No. 8 Kansas struggled with Texas Tech on Tuesday night, and that shouldn’t be as much of a surprise as the names on those jerseys make it seem.
The Red Raiders are tough this year. They beat Baylor in Lubbock, they beat Oklahoma State in Lubbock and they almost knocked off Iowa State in Ames over the weekend. Jordan Tolbert, Jaye Crockett and Dejan Kravic can matchup with any front line in the country, and on the nights when Tubby Smith’s guards are hitting shots, this group will put up a fight.
That’s exactly what happened against the Jayhawks, who needed yet another clutch lay-in from Andrew Wiggins, who got this one picking up a loose ball when Joel Embiid was stripped, to win the game. He did the same thing after missing a layup in an overtime loss to Kansas State last Monday.
In fact, Wiggins’ second half against the Red Raiders was as impressive of a performance as he’s had this season. He was a terror defensively. He got to the foul line. He got aggressive in big moments of a close road game when Kansas really needed him to try to take over. He was attacking the rim off of the bounce, beating people off the dribble and even finishing with a couple dunks instead of trying to finesse in off-balance layups. On the second-to-last Kansas possession, he took off from about a mile away and missed a dunk, but it was notable. That was one of the first times this season that I’ve seen Wiggins actively try to dunk all over a defender.
He missed it, but he tried.
And that’s what’s important here.
Look, Wiggins needs to add strength. Period. End of story. He has to be stronger finishing through contact, he has to be a stronger ball-handler, he has to add some upper-body mass. He just has to, because he almost seems cognizant of the fact that he’s going to be on the losing end of a collision with just about any front court player in the Big 12 right now. But that doesn’t mean he can’t get into the lane at will. He did that on Tuesday, and he finished with 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting, six boards, two assists, two steals and two blocks.
More importantly, Kansas finished with a win.
If there was a concern in this game, it was Naadir Tharpe, who reminded everyone of why he was considered a liability entering the season. He was 1-for-7 from the floor with four turnovers. Late in the game, he had two awful turnovers that led to layups — one of which was simply Tharpe losing a handle without being pressured defensively — and one airball on a three-pointer.
That hasn’t been the norm for him this season, but when he does play like that, especially on nights where Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden combine to go 2-for-11 from the floor, the Jayhawks could end up in trouble.