The Kansas Jayhawks came into tonight’s game versus New Mexico trying to end their two game slide at Colorado and at Florida. Forty miles East of Lawrence, the Jayhawks entered the Sprint Center with something to prove.
Off to a slow start, Kansas was neck and neck with the Lobos the entire first half, a first half that looked eerily similar to their previous two games. The Jayhawks managed to cut back the turnovers however, only committing five in the first half. Foul trouble was still lingering as well for the KU big men as three players finished with 2+ fouls in the half (Traylor – 3, Ellis – 2, Embiid – 2). Joel Embiid, Freshman Center hailing from Cameroon, has the potential to be a significant factor in the Jayhawks success this season. Unfortunately, Embiid was only able to contribute two points and three rebounds in the first half of Saturday’s game.
Andrew Wiggins struggled all night, finishing the game with 11 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks before picking up his fourth foul late in the second half and found himself on the bench the rest of the contest. Wiggins was the only double digit scorer in the first half for Kansas, posting 10 points.
Point Guard play and Center Joel Embiid have been the two key components that Coach Self has been waiting patiently for improvement in. Tonight, Self got his wish.
After holding on to a strenuous 39-38 lead going into the half, the Jayhawks came out with a bang in the second.
Point Guard Naadir Tharpe came to life, posting a season-high 9 assists as well as 8 points. Tharpe found his groove in the second half where he compiled seven of his nine assists and more importantly, emerged as the leader the young Jayhawks were so desperately in need of.
Seven-footer Joel Embiid took over in the second half, scoring 16 of his 18 points and shooting 5 of 5 from the field (2 Pts, 0-1 FG, 2-2 FT in 1st). Embiid was also able to corral six rebounds and add four emphatic blocks. Embiid gave onlookers goosebumps, finding himself in the “Akeem” zone tonight, as he displayed perhaps the prettiest “dream shake” I’ve seen since the man himself (Olajuwon).
Perry Ellis remains the Jayhawks “under the radar” guy with all the attention on the freshmen. Ellis finished the contest with team-highs 21 points and 9 rebounds.
The Jayhawks had four scorers reach double-digits tonight, Ellis with 21, Embiid with 18, Wiggins with 11, and fellow freshman Wayne Selden Jr. finished the contest with 10 points.
New Mexico’s Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams both finished the game with 24 points. The rest of the team managed a combined 15.
Kansas might have possibly played their best half of the season tonight in the second half of their 80-63 victory in Kansas City. With Naadir Tharpe emerging as the leader of this team by getting the rest of the guys involved with his passing and poise, as well as Embiid gradually increasing his level of play, the Kansas Jayhawks continue pushing towards the greatness they have to potential to reach.
Kansas can be next seen in action on Saturday December 21 as they take on John Thompson III’s Georgetown squad in Lawrence.