Saturday, March 3, 2018

Benton Smith: Oklahoma State’s physical play leads to Azubuike’s off day

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) gets tied up between Oklahoma State forward Cameron McGriff (12) and Oklahoma State forward Yankuba Sima (35) during the first half, Saturday, March 3, 2018 at Gallagher-Iba Arena, in Stillwater, Okla.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) gets tied up between Oklahoma State forward Cameron McGriff (12) and Oklahoma State forward Yankuba Sima (35) during the first half, Saturday, March 3, 2018 at Gallagher-Iba Arena, in Stillwater, Okla.


STILLWATER, OKLA. — Sometimes when Kansas sophomore Udoka Azubuike steps onto the basketball court, his 7-foot, 280-pound frame is too immense for opponents to handle. The mere idea of defending or trying to score over the Jayhawks’ center becomes intimidating.

Oklahoma State’s big men suffered no such trepidation Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Motivated 6-9 Cowboys senior Mitchell Solomon set a fearless tone inside in his final home game, and when Azubuike couldn’t equal Solomon it inspired Oklahoma State all the more to complete a season sweep of the 14-time reigning Big 12 champions.

After Solomon hit KU with 16 points, seven rebounds and a pair of blocked shots in an 82-64 Cowboys victory, Bill Self had a difficult time pinpointing the source of Azubuike’s issues. The Jayhawks’ occasionally dominant center finished with eight points on 4-for-6 shooting, with seven rebounds, four fouls and four turnovers in 20 minutes.

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Self repeated, when asked if a lack of focus or execution were to blame. “It was a bad struggle today, though. A bad struggle. We had a hard time remembering any sets. You know, you can’t run a set against pressure if one guy doesn’t know what he’s doing, and that happened a lot today.”

An active deterrent in the paint earlier the week versus Texas, Azubuike blocked no shots against Oklahoma State (18-13 overall, 8-10 Big 12). In the first half, a simple Solomon head fake sent KU’s would-be rim protector flying past, paving a runway for the Cowboys senior to slam and celebrate.

Less polished 6-11 junior Yankuba Sima went right at Azubuike for a score inside in the first half, too, and finished with six points, two rebounds and a block in 15 reserve minutes.

On the opposite end of the floor, both Solomon and Sima seemed to draw confidence from their offensive success. They bodied Azubuike to make sure he didn’t get easy catches and stayed active around him inside, never allowing him to create even the slightest positive momentum for himself.

“They was pushing him off the block a lot,” KU senior point guard Devonte’ Graham said, “making him catch it further out than he usually do. He couldn’t just turn and make a move. He had to make a couple more bounces than he was usually used to.”

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Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

Bill Self laments Jayhawks' lack of competitiveness after largest loss of season, at Oklahoma State

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self laments' the Jayhawks' competitiveness following an 82-64 loss at Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale.

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It was such an uncharacteristic day for Azubuike, who scored 20 against the Cowboys earlier this season, that freshman Silvio De Sousa looked more impressive, with his seven points on 3-of-5 shooting, three rebounds and no turnovers in 13 minutes off the bench.

“I thought he did OK,” Self assessed of the 6-9 De Sousa. “He was our best big guy today — that’s not saying a lot.”

Sophomore Mitch Lightfoot didn’t inspire Self to play him more than two first-half minutes and five second-half minutes in the worst defeat of the season for KU (24-7, 13-5). By process of elimination, De Sousa had a relatively satisfactory showing.

“Yeah, he played good,” Graham said of the freshman from Angola. “He came in and gave us a nice little spark off the bench. But we can’t rely on a guy who just got here in December. We’ve got to have our two other bigs come out and play smart and stuff like that.”

According to De Sousa, the Jayhawks lacked energy and concentration even before the game, setting them up for a long afternoon. The loss to Oklahoma State seemed even more drawn out for KU’s big men, with Solomon and Sima forcing them to work for every inch inside and around the paint.

“They’re strong,” De Sousa replied, when asked why the Cowboys’ bigs were able to take on the roles of aggressors. “They have size. It’s a hard game when you have guys like 7 feet or about 6-11 guarding you and the same build as you. Today we just weren’t comfortable doing what we usually do, so it was hard for us.”

Welcome to March. Nothing of any value comes easily at this point in the season. If KU’s bigs are quick learners, then this lesson in effort and physicality came at just the right time, before the postseason officially begins.

If not, the Jayhawks’ upcoming NCAA Tournament run could be short-lived.

By the Numbers: Oklahoma State 82, Kansas 64

By the Numbers: Oklahoma State 82, Kansas 64


David Robinett 2 weeks, 5 days ago

“According to De Sousa, the Jayhawks lacked energy and concentration even before the game”

David Robinett 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I have a feeling if we needed this win to win the league things would’ve been a lot different and we would’ve pulled it out.

Allan Olson 2 weeks, 4 days ago

The hard facts of life for KU in the NCAA are Devonta, Svi and Malik together must generate at least 50 points per game: the collective big men must concentrate on NO stupid, lazy fouls in the first half; these same big men must work to move their feet on offense and GET themselves in position for the ball; and maybe play some zone defense once in a while. Not real sure we can get to the Sweet Sixteen. After the first round game, we will very likely face teams that are good or better than OKIE State, Arizona State, Washington. Self knows exactly what's wrong when the loses to this level of opponent. He just does not want to say names in public at this fragile point in the year. Any team we play, with athletic, experienced big men, will try to stymie Dok and Mitch from getting comfortable near the basket.

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