LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—Kansas could handle a tight spot a year ago. With five future NBA players, there was always someone there to take over.
This year, the burden has fallen on two players: Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. Collins took to the role right away. Now, Aldrich is getting into the act, too.
Aldrich scored eight of his 22 points during a key stretch in the second half and had 11 rebounds, helping No. 15 Kansas extend the nation’s longest home-winning streak to 38 games with a 72-55 win over Iowa State on Wednesday night.
“Sherron and I are looked upon as leaders on this team and when things come down to the wire, they look for us to make big plays,” said Aldrich, who was 9-for-12 from the floor. “That’s one thing that Sherron and I have tried to take with open arms.”
Coming off tough road games against Missouri and Kansas State, Kansas (21-5, 10-1 Big 12) was sloppy at times, with most of its 18 turnovers coming on loose passes that were easily picked off. The Jayhawks made up for it with another superb defensive game, holding Iowa State to 32 percent shooting—the 65th straight opponent they’ve held under 50 percent.
Other than the weak passes, the Jayhawks weren’t too bad offensively, shooting 50 percent and hitting all eight free throw attempts—the first time they’ve been perfect from the line since 1993. Kansas also got 22 points, six assists and no turnovers from Collins to reach 10 conference wins for the 15th straight season.
“There wasn’t a lot of energy in the building and I don’t think we were as juiced as we should be at home,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I had to run them during shootaround, which doesn’t happen very often, so our focus wasn’t great, but we came out and played really well early and guarded them really well.”
Iowa State (13-13, 2-9) fell behind by 17 in the first half and never fully recovered. The Cyclones made a brief rally early in the second half, but had trouble with Kansas’ swarming defense to lose their 14th straight conference road game.
Craig Brackens had 20 points and 11 rebounds despite a tough shooting night and Jamie Vanderbeken scored all 15 of his points on 3-pointers for the Cyclones, who have lost eight of nine overall, including an 82-67 setback at home on Jan. 24.
“You really have to compete when you shoot as poorly as we did to start the game,” Iowa State coach Greg McDermott said. “It’s not like they forced us into a bunch of turnovers. We just missed shots. Once we settled in, we made shots and then we played them much better than we did in Ames.”
Kansas dominated early, opening with a 16-2 run and leading by double digits for most of the first half. But the Jayhawks got loose with the ball, particularly on passes out of the post, and let Iowa State finish the first half with a 10-4 run.
The Cyclones chipped the lead down to 36-31 two minutes into the second half and were still within five when Brackins hit a turnaround jumper. Normally, this would have been the place where Collins would have asserted his will on the game.
This time, Self called timeout and directed his players to get the ball into Aldrich. They did and the sophomore center took over, scoring the next eight points to put Kansas up 51-38 with 9 1/2 minutes left.
Iowa State got no closer than nine after that.
“He made some big shots for us,” Self said of Aldrich.
Aldrich, along with twins Marcus and Markieff Morris, helped to slow down Brackins.
In the teams’ first meeting, Kansas tried several different players on Iowa State’s leading scorer, sent help at him, even tried fouling. Nothing worked. Using his size to shoot over smaller players and quickness to get past bigger ones, Brackins scored 42 points, most against the Jayhawks since 1995.
The problem then was that he didn’t get any help. His teammates shot a combined 8-for-36 from the floor and the Cyclones lost by 15.
Kansas was much more effective against Brackins this time, forcing him away from the basket on post-ups, bumping him in the lane, doubling him when he got the ball down low. Brackins finished 7-for-21 from the floor and went to the free throw line just nine times after going 17-of-21 the first time around.
And, just like the previous meeting, he didn’t get much help. Iowa State missed 11 of its first 12 shots to shoot 8-of-28 in the first half and was only marginally better in the second to lose its eighth straight to Kansas.
“They were definitely more physical than last game,” Brackins said. “They were bumping me on screens and on shots. I tried to fight through, and it got me frustrated and I just couldn’t hit a shot today.”