KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Iowa State shrugged Friday and got Kansas off its back, beating the Jayhawks for just the second time in the last 20 tries. The 94-83 win in the Big 12 semifinals shoots the Cyclones to the conference final for the first time since 2000, when Marcus Fizer and Jamaal Tinsley cut down the nets.
At the end of it, Kansas coach Bill Self — whose team captured its 10th consecutive regular season crown in a runaway this season — was waving his players off from fouling intentionally.
They did anyway, even with 11 seconds left and down 92-83. This simply made Self more exasperated. When the buzzer sounded, DeAndre Kane ran to the side of the court opposite the band and his bench, waving his arms up and down, posing just long enough for an army of photographers to snap away. The crowd, an almost 50-50 split between Cyclones and Jayhawks fans, roared (or at least 50 percent of the crowd did). In 30 minutes the Sprint Center floor would be cleared to make way for Texas-Baylor in the semis nightcap, which had no chance at living up to its predecessor and didn't, Baylor, the No. 7 seed, beating the Longhorns 86-69.
In truth, the Cyclones' win over Kansas felt like the de facto championship game, especially as the Bears will Saturday be playing their fourth game in four days. Cracked Baylor guard Gary Franklin, when asked what his plans were for the night: "Cold tub."
For the second consecutive game, Fred Hoiberg's Iowa State squad put on a basketball clinic: The passing, the spacing, the shooting, the total rhythm. The national media and scribes from other Big 12 outlets who might've seen the Cyclones at a bad time this winter have been bubbly in conversations about them, ever since the opening half Thursday against Kansas State. Can they win this thing? Can they make a run to the Final Four?
We'll find the first answer in a few hours and get a clearer picture of the second in about a week. If everyone's bullish about the Cyclones, it's because of DeAndre Kane (20 points, six rebounds, six assists), Melvin Ejim (19 points), Georges Niang (team-leading 25 points Friday on 11-for-22 shooting), Dustin Hogue (31 points, 19 rebounds the last two games) and Monté Morris, the precocious freshman point guard who plays like a veteran and compensated for a low assist total Friday with 11 big points.
But Hoiberg's the secret weapon, who on Thursday after the win over Kansas State set courtside on press row, black-ink pen in hand, scribbling on the backside of the printed box score from the game, which was green. Hoiberg reserved the left side of the sheet for notes on Oklahoma State and the right for Kansas. By the end of the game, Hoiberg had filled the sheet, leaning back in his chair to consult with assistant Doc Sadler, one row back.
Hoiberg won't give away his scouting secrets, but he said Friday in the locker room he was paying attention to Kansas' "actions," and what it looked like on offense without Joel Embiid. And he must've noticed the Jayhawks were without a refined post scorer, other than Perry Ellis. On Iowa State's whiteboard, which is visible to the media at postgame, it was written in black sharpie under Black: "No angles! Transition rim-runner - DON'T HELP + CUT OUT!" And for Jamari Traylor, it was: "Transition rim-runner! Energy player."
The Cyclones keyed on Ellis on Friday, surrendering 30 points — but only nine in the second half — to the underrated sophomore forward. They were confident there wasn't another serious post threat. Black was stuck in foul trouble and scored six. So did Taylor.
"They didn't guard the other big," Self said.
In a surprise move, little-used junior forward Daniel Edozie played eight minutes, and was tremendous. His and-one layup was gravy, but his three rebounds and stout defense was what the 6-foot-8 Edozie was in for, along with some good fouls. Edozie stopped Wiggins from throwing down a tomahawk dunk late in the second half, and it was worth the risk of being posterized, especially as Wiggins missed the first free throw.
"You know what? I absolutely thought about it at the last second," Edozie said. "So when he went up, I was, 'Uh-oh, I'm not going to be on the SportsCenter Top 10,' so I contested."
Said Naz Long: "Daniel had such a huge role today, man. He came in and did what he had to. Rebounds, playing defense, converting on the free throw. We're proud of him, man. We love him for it."
Afterwards, Hogue joked he was so tired he would be nothing but a statue the rest of the night and would at least watch the first half of the Baylor game. Hogue then fell out of his seat, perhaps as a ploy, and did not get off the ground, prompting Long to run over and joke, "He's out for the Finals!"
Kane sat by himself, late to shower because of interviews, showing the swath of tattoos across his torso and up his arms. Sometimes Kane will say whatever's on his mind, like after the win over West Virginia a few weeks ago. But usually, he's less playful — despite how demonstrative he is on the court. That was the mood Friday.
On his magnificent three-pointer over the outstretched arms of Ellis, which gave the Cyclones a 59-52 lead at 14:38 in the second half and tied his career high for long-bombs in a game, Kane just said: "I hit a big three. [Ellis] had a huge game. That three didn't mean nothing to him."
The histrionics immediately following the three-pointer — a measured look at the cameras as the game went to timeout, pointing from his head to the crowd — suggest something different. The Cyclones are at their best when Kane is unleashed, even if it means a little Hero Ball.
Or are they at their peak when Niang pretends to be Kevin McHale, going layup-jumper-baby hook-floater for eight consecutive points down the stretch in the second half? Or is it when Ejim takes over, like he did against Kansas State? How about when Morris plays quarterback, scattering the ball to corner shooters?
All five starters scored in double-figures Friday, so perhaps it's a combination of the above.
"That was as good as we've played," Hoiberg said. "I think so."