Jayhawks squash Iowa State for fourth straight win
If Kansas center Cole Aldrich's junior season hadn't hit bottom, it
was certainly getting there. Not only was Aldrich in the midst of a
midseason slump, the recent death of his grandmother weighed
heavily on his mind.
Aldrich snapped out of his funk with a performance that, until recently, was what folks expected from him. He tied a season high with 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as No. 3 Kansas cruised past Iowa State 84-61 on Saturday for its fourth straight win.
Marcus Morris added 16 for the Jayhawks (18-1), who are off to their third straight 4-0 start in Big 12 play - with three of those wins by double digits.
"It just feels good to be back. I've gone through a lot of slumps this year and I've been through a lot of stuff. It's tough and it weighs on me, but I'm just going out and giving it my heart,'' said Aldrich, whose grandmother, Ann Aldrich, passed away in Minnesota last week.
Kansas had little trouble with the depleted Cyclones. The Jayhawks closed the first half on a 25-11 run and extended its lead to as much as 67-45 midway through the second half.
Kansas forced 17 turnovers and held Craig Brackins, who torched them for 42 points in Ames last season, to just 13 on 5-of-13 shooting.
"He lit us up for 42 last year, and I felt as though it was my job to keep him from scoring as many points,'' Morris said. "I felt like I did a great job on him.''
Marquis Gilstrap had 18 points and 12 rebounds to lead Iowa State (12-7, 1-3), which dropped its ninth straight to Kansas and its 17th straight to ranked opponents dating to 2006.
Iowa State, which is down to eight scholarship players, saw their hopes for a second-half comeback dashed in a hurry.
Center Justin Hamilton - one of four available post players for the Cyclones - picked up his fourth foul less than a minute in, and Aldrich's bank shot from the top of the key put Kansas ahead 50-32 with 15:59 left. Morris pushed the Jayhawks' lead to 69-49 with a layup with 8:09 left, and it wasn't long before many in the sellout crowd started headed for the exits.
The Jayhawks destroyed Iowa State inside behind Aldrich and Morris, outscoring them 50-24 in the paint. Aldrich, who had averaged just 10 points and eight rebounds in his first three league games, added three blocks.
"He was better today. There's no question,'' Kansas coach Bill Self said. "He moved better and was more aggressive offensively.''
Kansas set the early tone with eight points in the first 1:46, forcing Iowa State to call a quick timeout. The Cyclones bounced back and took a 14-13 lead, but the Jayhawks answered with a 17-4 run to jump comfortably ahead. Aldrich capped the spurt with a textbook turnaround jumper and a 10-footer to give the Jayhawks a 30-18 lead.
Kansas held the Cyclones to one field goal in the final 8:40 of the first half and led 38-25 at the break - despite hitting only one of their first 10 3-point tries.
The loss closes out a trying week for Iowa State, whose slim hopes for an NCAA tournament bid in coach Greg McDermott's fourth season keep shrinking.
Junior guard Lucca Staiger, the team's third-leading scorer and its top 3-point threat, stunned the team by announcing Tuesday that he was leaving the program to play professionally in his native Germany.
The move angered Iowa State fans - one held up a sign on Saturday reading "Thanks For Nothing, Lucca!'' - and forced McDermott to lift a suspension on freshman Chris Colvin much earlier than he wanted.
"We aren't going to use that as an excuse. We've got to be able to out-will it,'' said Iowa State guard Scott Christopherson, who has taken Staiger's place in the lineup. "We're a little low on numbers right now, but it's not like an excuse we're going to use ever. We're going to fight for it.''
The buzz surrounding Kansas this week swirled around sophomore Tyshawn Taylor.
Shortly after Internet rumors began flying Wednesday night that Taylor had indicated on Facebook he might want to leave the Jayhawks, the page was taken down. Self shot down reports of Taylor possibly wanting to leave the program on Friday.
Brady Morningstar started over Taylor for the second straight game, scoring seven points and grabbing seven boards. Taylor didn't check in until midway through the first half but had seven points and five rebounds in just 13 minutes.
"He played good. Maybe he'll play more in the future, you know, maybe he won't,'' Self said. "The last two games he's probably played about 13 minutes each games. ... That's not what I want him to play, but that's the way I see it as we speak.''