AMES, Iowa - Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins grabbed every rebound in sight. Joel Embiid was nearly unstoppable in the paint in the second half, and Naadir Tharpe seemingly couldn't miss.
The young Jayhawks are growing up— and they're putting it together in time for another run through the Big 12.
Tharpe scored a career-high 23 points on just nine shots, Wiggins of Vaughan, Ont., had 17 points and a season-high 19 rebounds and No. 15 Kansas beat No. 8 Iowa State 77-70 on Monday night for its third straight win to open conference play.
"The thing about it is, if you have followed our team closely, you could make the case that this team probably enjoyed playing less than other teams we've had," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "But since we started conference play, they're having as much fun as any team we've ever had."
The Jayhawks had plenty of reasons to smile in perhaps their most impressive win of the season.
Embiid had 12 of his 16 points in the second half to go with five blocks for the Jayhawks (12-4, 3-0), who outrebounded Iowa State 53-36.
Kansas opened the second half with a 16-5 run and led the rest of the way, handing the Cyclones (14-2, 2-2) their second consecutive loss after a 14-0 start.
Iowa State doesn't start anyone taller than 6-foot-7, and its lack of size is threatening to become an issue.
"This is a couple of games in a row now where, probably the difference has been on the glass," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We were pretty good in the non-conference portion of the schedule. You don't want this to be a trend moving forward."
It wasn't all good news for Kansas either.
The Jayhawks committed 24 turnovers but they survived by shooting 49 per cent from the field and dominating the glass.
"We handled the ball miserably. Looked like a third grade team out there offensively sometimes taking care of the ball. But we made up for it by being pretty good on the glass. It was a great win," Self said.
DeAndre Kane, who sprained an ankle in the loss to Oklahoma on Saturday, had 21 points for Iowa State, which lost to Kansas for the 17th time in 18 games.
The Cyclones, the Big 12's top 3-point shooting team, were a dreadful 4 of 25 from beyond the arc.
Kane, who led the Big 12 with 22.7 points, 6.3 assists and 3.3 steals through three league games, responded well enough to around the clock treatment on his left ankle that he has able to start.
It didn't provide the early boost the Cyclones were looking for.
Kansas jumped all over Iowa State, rolling to a quick 15-4 lead less than 5 minutes in. But the Cyclones fought their way back to tie the game at 36-all on Kane's 3 at the halftime buzzer.
The Jayhawks started the second half the way they did the first. Perry Ellis extended their lead to 52-41 with a slam with 13:32 left, and Embiid wrapped two baskets around a blocked shot as Kansas went ahead 64-53.
Kane could have made it a one-possession game with under a minute left, but he missed a layup and Tharpe answered with two free throws.
Kane said his ankle was an issue — and he was also kneed in the thigh with about 4 minutes left.
"I really couldn't cut and go change of pace. But that's no excuse. I played 37 minutes. I was out there enough. I just didn't do enough to help my team win," Kane said.
Melvin Ejim had 15 points for Iowa State, but forward Georges Niang had 11 points on 4-of-20 shooting from the field. Iowa State was just 9 of 37 from the field in the second half.
"We came out hard. We came out hungry," Wiggins said of his team's second-half surge.
Iowa State had longed for another crack at Kansas at home after the Jayhawks rallied for a contentious overtime win here last season.
But Iowa State's inability to knock down 3s they'd normally make was too much to overcome — and Embiid and the Jayhawks confounded the Cyclones with their size and length.
"I think Embiid is the best player in the country," Hoiberg said. "He's huge. He's got great length. He can shoot, he's got incredible footwork and he's been playing the game for about two years."