Lincoln, Neb. — Beating Nebraska in basketball by one point doesn’t look like much of a step forward on paper, but the way Kansas stopped its two-game losing streak spoke more to progress than the 73-72 margin.
The Jayhawks showed a willingness and ability to get the ball into the big man’s hands and Udoka Azubuike showed as much offensive skill and determination as he has at any point in a Kansas uniform.
Plenty of schools, Kansas among them, can spread the floor and get hot from 3-point range, but for the Jayhawks to perform at a typical level, they must establish an inside game.
Azubuike, who now shoots hooks with both hands, has to be enough of an offensive force for opponents to have a difficult decision as to which poison to pick: Either crowd the big man and run the risk of leaving a 3-point shooter open or guard Azubuike with one man and take your chances that he won’t make you pay.
The 7-foot sophomore center from Nigeria gave future opponents something about which to think by producing 26 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes Saturday.
Not coincidentally, his big game came after he was pushed harder by Self than the coach ever has pushed him during the week in practice.
Azubuike said that in the practices and film sessions leading up to the game Self was, “really on me, like, like really bad.”
When Self said that he didn’t expect to receive a Christmas card or gift from his biggest player, he wasn’t smiling. His expression suggested that he didn’t feel good about what he put him through, but knew he had to do it.
Coaches hung up on being liked at all times by their players don't get the most out of them. In the end, they don’t earn players’ respect because the players figure out they aren't getting better. Sometimes, the best play for a coach is to make the player so mad at him that he embraces an “I’ll show him he’s wrong,” mentality.
It worked, and Azubuike’s confidence, which might have taken hits at times during the week, took a big step forward with Saturday’s career-best effort.
Omaha, which played a home game Sunday night, doesn’t have the talent to hang with Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse. That makes it a nice night for KU to use the game as a practice and hammer home the pound-the-ball-inside theme from start to finish.
If KU stays disciplined in doing that, senior point guard Devonte’ Graham might find himself repeating his words from after the Nebraska thriller: “Dok, MVP of the game. Played amazing.”