With 13 seconds left in overtime junior guard Wayne Selden Jr., headed to the sideline signaling the end of his night. As he headed to the bench he was greeted with hugs from his teammates and a standing ovation from the 16,300 fans in attendance Saturday night in Allen Fieldhouse.
His ovation-worthy performance featured a highlight dunk in overtime, a classic Selden-like dive into the stands and a three-pointer to go up one in the final minute of regulation. Selden did it all, en route to a career-high 33-point performance. His game led Kansas to a 90-84 home victory over Kentucky.
“He was great. That was as good of a game he has played since he’s been here,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He did what great players do at game-point today.”
The No. 4 Jayhawks would need all of Selden’s 33 points to edge out the No. 20 Wildcats in the 45-minute gladiator-like battle of two blue-blood programs. It was the 45th time in Selden's career he scored in double-digits, but just the first time he broke the 30-point threshold.
“I feel like I had a little more incentive in my head before the game started,” Selden said. “Just thinking about the past a little bit, more so just how we’ve been — we’ve been flat. [I was] just coming out and trying to be more aggressive and more enthusiastic.”
Much like his team, the junior guard has been slumping as of late. Kansas had dropped three of its last five games, and, during that span, Selden had scored more than 11 points just once. In fact, it had been since January 4, against Oklahoma, that Selden had scored at least 20 points.
Selden picked the right time to break out the slump and get the Jayhawks back on track. Against the Wildcats, he was 12-of-20 from the floor, with five rebounds in 44 minutes of action. But what was even more impressive is how little he used the long ball to get him to his career-high.
“Wayne today was as smart offensively as he’s been all year, because he didn’t settle,” Self said. “He drove it. If Wayne shoots 20 shots in a game, you'd think historically that would be 10 threes.”
The junior guard took just five shots from beyond the perimeter, making three of them. In his last two games, he had taken 14 shots from downtown, making just five.
Against a much bigger Kentucky team, Selden wasn’t scared to be aggressive. Rather than camp out around the baseline, time and time again, he tried to take the Wildcats off the dribble.
An example of that came in overtime when he unleashed a career-defining slam over a much taller defender in Skal Labissiere. The dunk, which ended up at seven on the SportsCenter Top 10, gave him 30 points, while also giving him 1,000 points for his Kansas career, as he became the 57th Jayhawk to surpass that mark.
“It was a big momentum swing,” sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham said. “He was going in there a couple times and was getting his shot blocked, so he decided to go turn it over on somebody’s head.”
His newly found aggressive mindset led to him getting better looks from beyond the arc as well.
As the Wildcats were playing Selden as a driver and not a shooter, Selden occasionally would shake his defender loose by popping out and hitting the three-ball. And that was key later in the game.
Arguably Selden's biggest shot came with 51 seconds to go in regulation, as he snuck out toward the right baseline. When the ball got kicked to Graham at the top of the key, Selden began waving his arms. He was wide open in the corner.
Graham fired it across court, and Selden caught it cleanly and immediately fired it, finding the bottom of the net to give Kansas a 75-74 lead. That three gave him 26 points at that point, surpassing his previous career-high of 25.
However, while Selden had been wide open, that wasn't exactly the plan, according to Kentucky coach John Calipari. In fact, according to Calipari, he had told his team the exact opposite.
“We were playing Selden no-catch,” Calipari said. “There is no reason that you’re leaving the guy that’s killing you.”
Even though Selden had been struggling, the opposition knew just how dangerous he could be if he broke out his slump. And under the biggest spotlight of the regular season, with College GameDay in the house, Selden did just that.
“[He] put us on his back,” Self said. “Wayne was unreal.”
Of course, Selden’s resurgence couldn’t have come at a better time for the Jayhawks.
Not just because it was arguably the biggest non-conference regular season contest of the year, but also because of how silent his supporting cast was Saturday night. No other Kansas player scored more than 13 points against Kentucky.
Senior forward Perry Ellis is viewed by many as the go-to option on one of the most balanced teams in the nation. Coming into the game against Kentucky, he was averaging 24.5 points per game in his last two contests.
However, due to foul trouble, he scored just 10 points in 31 minutes. In fact, after Ellis scored on the first possession, it took him nearly 28 minutes just to attempt another shot from the floor.
But Selden’s play kept Kansas in it for the course of the game.
“He’s a soldier, but we’ve known that,” Graham said. “We’ve known that he could have games like this. Tonight was the perfect time for him to have a breakout game.”
On Saturday night, Kansas’ soldier put the team on is back in its biggest battle of the season. Under the biggest lights, Selden did what all leaders do, and got the team back on the right track. Now it remains to be seen if he'll continue to do that going forward.