LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — There were moments of frustration for Kansas coach Bill Self, moments where he’d angrily call a timeout or attend a post-game news conference and glumly bemoan another uneven performance.
There never was a moment where he lost faith in his team.
Now, after enduring the nation’s most brutal non-conference schedule, the sixth-ranked Jayhawks are proving to be exactly what the pundits thought they’d be: The Big 12’s premier team, one that already has a substantial lead in the conference as the race nears its midway point.
“We have grown, but we’re just now to the middle of the season. That’s what’s so strange,” Self said. “The big thing is that we’re playing with more energy and we’re starting to understand how we’re going to score — not just running an offense to run an offense. We’re not a tough team by any stretch, but are playing tougher than we did earlier in the season.”
That’s certainly been evident in the results.
After a loss to fifth-ranked San Diego State ended the Jayhawks’ 68-game non-conference winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas has ripped off seven straight wins through arguably the toughest part of its league schedule.
It began with a win at No. 23 Oklahoma, and continued with wins over four straight teams that were ranked in the Top 25 — Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor. After a blowout win at TCU, the Jayhawks beat the No. 16 Cyclones for a second time on Wednesday night.
Now, they’ll head to No. 25 Texas with essentially a two-game lead in the Big 12.
“I’m not surprised at all,” junior guard Naadir Tharpe said. “I knew it was going to be a matter of time until everybody just let water run off their back and start going out there and just playing. That is what I feel like dudes are doing right now.”
The most important of them may be Andrew Wiggins, the highly touted freshman.
After fits and starts to begin his college career, the 6-foot-8 swingman and projected lottery pick in the June draft has gone on a tear. Wiggins scored a career-high 27 points in the win over the Horned Frogs, and then bested it with 29 points against the Cyclones earlier this week.
He’s averaging more than 24 points over his past three games.
“I would say I feel more comfortable on the court,” Wiggins said this week. “A lot of things are slowing down for me and my teammates are looking for me.”
He’s also starting to create his own shot, something that he was reticent to do early in the season, prompting Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg to say he’s “oozing with confidence.
“That’s scary,” Hoiberg said. “With that athleticism, that length and that speed, the kid’s got it all. When he’s knocking down shots, not too many better.”
There aren’t many teams better than the Jayhawks right now.
Since the start of league play, the nine-time defending champions are putting up a Big 12-leading 84 points per game. They’re just a half-point out of second place in scoring defense, and their scoring margin of 12 points per game is seven better than second-place Oklahoma State.
The Jayhawks (16-4, 7-0 Big 12) also lead the league in field-goal and 3-point percentage, rebounding defense and margin, blocked shots, assists and, well, you get the idea.
“They have a special group,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said. “At every position, they have somebody who can score. They can attack you, so you really have to be on your toes.”
After the Jayhawks, Texas may be the next hottest team in the Big 12 heading into Saturday’s game.
The Longhorns (16-4, 5-2) have rattled off five straight wins, the last three coming against ranked teams in Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor. The Jayhawks will represent the first time in school history that Texas will have played four consecutive Top 25 opponents.
“They’re young. They’re not quite as young as we are, but they’re young and fast, probably as fast as any team we’ll play,” Self said. “They’re obviously playing their tails off.”