This recent stretch of the schedule was a welcome sight for Kansas to get back on track and gain confidence. It also seems to have been a much-needed stretch for Jalen Wilson, in particular, to do the same.
After being one of the biggest surprises nationally during the first part of the season, Wilson hit a freshman wall that coincided with the Jayhawks’ losing trend. He struggled from the floor, was careless with the ball, and had a hard time on defense. But in the past two games against Iowa State, Wilson has looked more like his December self.
He followed up his 16-point, 11-rebound performance on Thursday with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists on Saturday. His offensive ratings of 147 and 135 respectively were the fifth and sixth times that Wilson has produced an offensive rating of 135 or higher, but the first times since January 5.
It seemed as if many of Wilson’s struggles during the middle of the season were mental and a result of him trying to do too much. After turning it over three or more times in a five-of-nine-game stretch, Wilson only turned it over once in each of his last two games.
Another area where Wilson has improved is in his rebounding, and especially offensive rebounding. He has seven offensive rebounds in his last two games, whereas he only grabbed two offensive boards in the three-game losing streak against Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Oklahoma.
And I know what you are going to say, well, it was against Iowa State. And yes, that’s true (although ISU’s defense is ranked higher than TCU and K-State in defensive efficiency according to KenPom). But if a lot of this is mental—which I think it is, along with trying to force his hand too much—then the way to break out of a slump is to see something good happen.
That’s what happened. Wilson saw the ball go in the basket (especially from 3, where he shot 5-10 in these two games) and limited the careless mistakes. Bill Self has said recently that he’s likely going with a seven-man rotation most nights, with Bryce Thompson and Mitch Lightfoot coming off the bench, so it’s critical to get Wilson back in the right mindset because there isn’t a lot of help coming if he can’t be a reliable contributor on the court.
Wilson spoke to the media after the game, and even though this quote in Gary Bedore’s article for the Kansas City Star is referring to the team as a whole, it’s not hard to see some internal reflection in the words, as well. And hopefully for KU fans, these words are prophetic.
“This is what we should be doing. This is what we should have been doing all season...We are focused now. We’re ready for the last games of the Big 12.”