LINCOLN, Neb. — It had been a while — nearly five years, in fact — since Kansas basketball lost three games in a row. Playing at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday, the No. 13-ranked Jayhawks were determined to keep it that way.
In a sloppy game that never swung too much in one direction until late, the Jayhawks had just enough in the tank to snap their two-game losing streak, defeating Nebraska, 73-72, behind a career-high 26 points from Udoka Azubuike and a key 3-pointer from Svi Mykhailiuk.
Through the first 20 minutes, it was Azubuike and Devonte’ Graham who did most of the work for KU (8-2). The two scored 25 of KU’s 36 points in the period, shooting a combined 11-for-17 from the field.
KU’s next leading scorer, Lagerald Vick, had just five points at that juncture. Outside of Azubuike and Graham, KU shot just 3-for-15 in the first half and was outscored 15-11 in the final nine minutes.
It was that combination of Graham and Azubuike that threatened to help turn the tide for KU in the second half.
Azubuike reached his career-high in scoring on a dunk with six minutes to play in the period. The big man followed that possession up with a strong defensive rebound that led to a Graham assist, capping off a 9-2 run to put KU in front by seven.
Nebraska (7-5) had plenty left in the tank, eventually coming back and taking a 2-point lead with less than a minute to play, but Mykhailiuk sprung open on the left-wing and buried the game winner with just 21 seconds to play.
View a gallery of images from Saturday's game between the Jayhawks and Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Here’s a quick look back at some of the action:
• The game turned when: Mykhailiuk's shot fell through the nylon.
KU threatened to pull away from its opponent at various points throughout the second half, but it was not until Mykhailiuk's shot and an Azubuike swat leading to a full-court pass to run out the clock that KU was able to seal the win.
Mykhailiuk had shot just 5-for-15 going into the final possession but gave KU the win on just his second 3-pointer of the day.
• Offensive highlight: Azubuike had no problem finding shots early, recording five field goal attempts all before the first media timeout.
The 7-foot Nigeria native missed his first field goal attempt but put in three baskets shortly after, the most emphatic of which came in the paint with just over three minutes gone from the game.
Vick floated a pass to Azubuike, who spun as he hauled it in. Having sealed off his defender, Azubuike took off from just outside the restricted area and slammed the ball into the hoop. The dunk put KU up by three and was already his second slam against 6-foot-11 Nebraska big man Jordy Tshimanga.
Azubuike finished the first half with a game-high 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting. He showed some nice touch on a hook shot while falling away from the basket, but did most of his damage inside. By itself, the half marked the third-most field goal attempts for Azubuike in any game in his career.
• Defensive highlight: With just over 13 minutes to play in the first half, Nebraska tried to get an easy basket on a lob to Duby Okeke.
Nebraska guard Thomas Allen lobbed the ball up, but Vick read the play like a defensive back, swooping in for an athletic steal and sprinting down the court the other way.
Vick stopped at the perimeter, delivering a no-look scoop pass to Graham on the wing. The senior buried a 3-point jumper to reach double-figures in scoring and put KU up eight, at the time its biggest lead of the day.
• Key stat: Getting to the line has not been a strength of the Jayhawks in the 2017-18 season.
While KU forced Tshimanga into foul trouble in the first half, the team only shot four free throws in the period, all of which were taken by Mitch Lightfoot.
The Jayhawks finished the game with only eight free throw attempts. They did, however, make all of them, with both Lightfoot and Graham knocking down four apiece.
• Up next: The Jayhawks will have a short turnaround, returning home to take on Omaha in Allen Fieldhouse Monday at 6 p.m. The Mavericks, currently 2-10 on the season, will actually face off against Cornell College on Sunday, Dec. 17, before taking on the Jayhawks the next day.