Over the course of the season, KU BALLS will identify a meaningful moment and/or player from the games to include in its Digital Museum.
In last night’s 94-83 Kansas victory over Duke, there were several candidates. Perry Ellis and his mustache carried KU during the first half when foul problems kept key Jayhawks on the bench for extended stretches. Frank Mason was a blur and Wayne Selden showed his strength & aggressiveness.
But really, was there any doubt that Andrew Wiggins would get the nod?
I understand that you can point to Wiggins’ “only” having 22 points and missing most of the first half with foul trouble, so an argument can be made that he not only wasn’t the best overall player in last night’s game (Jabari Parker), but that he wasn’t even the best Jayhawk (Ellis). But if you were going to identify a player and a series of moments to construct a museum diorama that best encapsulated last night, it would be of Wiggins’ play in the second half between 1:34 and 1:17 left in the game.
With 1:34 to go, Wiggins takes a pass near the baseline and turns to the basket with Duke’s Amile Jefferson defending him and Parker ready to help in the lane. Wiggins offers a quick ball fake to freeze Jefferson, who’s anticipating the drive as well as knowing Parker is ready to help at the bucket. One dribble and an NBA-quick step-back later, Wiggins nails a 15 foot jumper:
Less than 10 seconds later, Perry Ellis capitalizes on a Rodney Hood miscue and throws a pass to Wiggins, who recognized the steal opportunity and was sprinting down court for the outlet. Wiggins flushes the ball home with 1:17 left in the game while being fouled by Parker:
So nice, it’s worth looking at twice:
In the span of 17 seconds Wiggins scored four points that took a tenuous, KU lead from 83-81 in a back-and-forth game, to an 87-81 lead that took away as much confidence, fire and emotion from Duke as it gave KU. For all practical purposes, it was all over but the crying.
This was Wiggins’ coming out party – yes, there was a summer scrimmage & dunk over Cole Aldrich, Late Night in the Phog, covers & articles in SI, ESPN and GQ, exhibition games, and even the first regular season game against Louisiana-Monroe last week. But this was different.
This was two of the top five teams & programs not only this season, but of all time, going after each other on an NBA court and national TV. This was The Freshman playing in what could have been billed as The Night of THE Freshmen, who realistically couldn’t be expected to live up to the hype that had been built up around him. Julius Randle discovered his “Beast Mode” (® Marshawn Lynch) in the second half of Kentucky’s close loss to Michigan State, and Parker made pundits and all of Twitter swoon with his 19 points and effortless play in the first half against Kansas. You could sense the long knives of disappointment, critical analysis and storylines around Wiggins’ lack of productivity being drawn, with Wiggins’ plight exacerbated by foul trouble and him relegated to quite possibly being one of the highest profile bench cheerleaders since Bill Walton was on the Celtics.
But then, in the second half, in the City of Big Shoulders, Wiggins put the team on his.
And he should only get better.
I can’t wait to see what comes next.
DIGITAL MUSEUM “GIFT SHOP” ITEMS (little tokens & keepsakes you take home to help you remember the experience):
- Wiggins’ response to being asked about his match-up versus Parker: “Our names on the jersey don’t say Parker and Wiggins, but Kansas and Duke. Not one player was going to win it, but the team.”
- Self’s comment about Wiggins wanting to defend Parker: “He came to me all game, ‘Let me guard Jabari. I want to guard Jabari.’ Midway through the second half, about 13 minutes left, I didn’t put him on Jabari. He just went and got him. And and I think he got a piece of his shot. I said, ‘Maybe he’s right.’ ”
- The joy on Wiggins’ face as he celebrated with the team after his dunk as well as after the win:
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