KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)Kansas coach Bill Self spoke to his team remotely during breakfast Friday, while the Hall of Famer continued his recovery from an emergency medical procedure earlier this week, and told the Jayhawks that he was proud of their quarterfinal performance in the Big 12 Tournament.
Their semifinal showing might have been even better.
Jalen Wilson had 25 points and 10 rebounds, Gradey Dick made a couple of crucial baskets during a second-half run to help Kansas regain control, and the third-ranked Jayhawks cruised past Iowa State 71-58 on Friday night to move within one more win of defending their tournament title.
“It was great to talk to him, hear his voice,” Wilson said of Self, who went to the hospital Wednesday night and is out for the tournament. “He was super proud of how we did last game and I’m sure he’ll be proud of us this game.”
Dick finished with 15 points for the top-seeded Jayhawks (27-6), who fell behind early in the second half before the defending champs rallied to reach Saturday night’s title game against No. 7 Texas.
Longtime assistant Norm Roberts, serving as the acting coach, said Self was “doing a lot better.” It’s still unknown whether he will be available when the Jayhawks begin the defense of their NCAA championship next week.
“We talked to him today, earlier this morning, going over the game plan – how we wanted to guard, what we wanted to do – and he was good with that,” Roberts said. “He talked to us right after the game and was so excited about the way the guys played. He said, ‘Hey, we really guarded today.’ He was really happy for our guys.”
Jaren Holmes had 16 points to lead the No. 5 seed Cyclones (19-13). Robert Jones finished with 11.
“They were more aggressive from the start,” Iowa State coach TJ Otzelberger said. “They got going offensively, espeically Wilson early, and they’re a really good team. I’m proud of our guys for how they fought back, and gained the lead in the secnod half, but we weren’t able to string together stops.”
The first half between two teams very familiar with each other was sloppy and disjointed. They combined to commit 20 turnovers, some of them byproduct of tight defense but many entirely unforced.
Wilson got off to a hot start, hitting a trio of 3-pointers among his first four shots. The Cyclones weathered the barrage and were still within 29-25 late in the half, but Wilson’s basket in the closing minute and another turnover that led to a runout dunk by KJ Adams sent the regular-season champs to the locker room with a 33-25 lead.
The Jayhawks’ turnover trouble continued after the break, and Iowa State used a 10-2 run out of the locker room and another spurt moments later to take a 39-38 lead – its first of the game – with just under 15 minutes to go.
Yet the Jayhawks showed again the poise and precision that have made them so good come March.
Wilson answered Iowa State with a couple of free throws, starting the Jayhawks’ own 10-2 run to retake control. Backup big man Ernest Udeh Jr. threw down a thunderous dunk off a nifty assist from Dajuan Harris Jr., who also had 11 points, and the lead unspooled again as Kansas fans began to drown out their Cyclone counterparts.
The Jayhawks were never threatened down the stretch as they clinched their spot in the title game.
“Our guys were fired up to play, excited to play today,” Roberts said, “and we really did a good job defenisvely of kind of taking them out of what they wanted to do in a lot of ways.”
Kevin McCullar Jr., the Jayhawks’ defensive stopper who has been dealing with some back spasms, pulled himself from the game in the second half. He had six points in 12 minutes before watching the rest of the game on the bench.
“We told the guys, ‘Step up. Step up. Make a play,’” Roberts said, “and our guys did that.”
Iowa State has adjusted to life without 3-point specialist Caleb Grill, who was dismissed from the team last week. Gabe Kalscheur and Holmes, who struggled from the field Friday night, have become an prolific backcourt duo that could cause some fits in the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas has played well while Roberts has been the acting coach. Along with two wins in the Big 12 Tournament, it went 4-0 with him on the bench when Self served a school-imposed four-game suspension to start the season. That included a win over Duke in the Champions Classic.
Kansas will play for the fourth time in the last five championship games Saturday night at T-Mobile Center.
Iowa State waits to learn whether a Big 12 quarterfinal win over Baylor clinched its at-large NCAA tourney berth.
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