Thursday, March 15, 2018


Tom Keegan: Azubuike makes small progress in return vs. Penn

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) waits to check into the game during the first half, Thursday, March 15, 2018 at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) waits to check into the game during the first half, Thursday, March 15, 2018 at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan.


Wichita — Nine days after hitting the floor in practice, sent there by a sprained MCL of the left knee, Kansas starting center Udoka Azubuike checked into Thursday’s first-round NCAA tournament game with 8:32 left in the first half and Kansas trailing by eight points.

Many in the pro-Kansas crowd stood up and roared. Seeing the biggest man on the team entering a game after missing three in a row was the first step toward easing the fears of a fan base that lives for March.

Soon thereafter, Kansas began its climb back, led by six at halftime, and advanced to the second round with a 76-60 victory against Penn at Intrust Bank Arena.

In a fairy tale, Azubuike would have carried the team to its triumph with monster dunks and vicious blocked shots.

Not the case. Knee injuries don’t follow fairy-tale plotlines.

Azubuike played three minutes and had one rebound to show for it. That’s fine. The first step was not about statistics or dominance. It was about getting the first step out of the way so that there could be a second step, which is scheduled to come Saturday against Seton Hall.

Azubuike spent parts of the rest of the game riding the exercise bike behind the bench to keep the knee from stiffening.

He pointed to the inside part of his knee to show where he experienced pain.

“Sliding my feet was what I was concerned about, not jumping,” Azubuike said. “If they throw me the ball, I’m going to jump and get it. Sliding my feet on defense, I’m still working on that. Sliding my feet, front and back, I feel a little pain.”

Azubuike met with coaches and medical staff Wednesday and learned there that the plan called for him playing “five to six minutes, max,” in the opener, coach Bill Self said.

“He didn’t hurt us when he was out there,” Self said. “He didn’t move great, but I do think it will give him some confidence to be ready to play on Saturday. We’re going to really need him Saturday.”

Lightfoot had a big second half, contributing all nine of his points and 9 of 11 rebounds after the break. Silvio De Sousa pitched in with two points and four rebounds, but Self isn’t in denial about how much Azubuike means to the team.

“We’re a 1 seed based on our personnel,” Self said. “If we don’t have our big guy, are we really a 1 seed?”

Kansas looked like one in the Big 12 title game victory against West Virginia with De Sousa playing so well, but didn’t look the part in the early going Thursday against the Ivy League school.

“That was like a 3 playing a 14,” Self said. “I knew if we didn’t have Dok so we can have somebody to throw it to and you don’t make shots, that levels the playing field, so it was a better in than what it looked like.”

Self said Azubuike had not played in a fullcourt setting with teammates since the injury until entering Thursday’s game.

“Tomorrow he needs to practice up and down,” Self said. “However long we go, he needs to be out there during that time.”

The coach isn’t fantasizing about a full recovery by then. He’s more realistic than that.

“Hopefully we can get him at 80 percent, 85 percent tomorrow for full practice and then have him available to us on Saturday,” Self said.

More news and notes from Kansas vs. Penn

By the Numbers: Kansas 76, Penn 60.

By the Numbers: Kansas 76, Penn 60.


Dave Miller 3 years ago

Rebounds, getting turnovers, blocks, and making shots at foul line won this game. That, and Devonte Graham running down hill. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!!

Len Shaffer 3 years ago

Very scary, and eerily reminiscent of the Joel Embiid situation. If Dok can't play well on Saturday, we're in serious trouble.

Craig Carson 3 years ago

the team with Embiid was very inexperienced..this team isnt..BUT, still wont be a good outcome for KU fans if Azibuike isnt out there or if DeSousa doesnt play like he did against WVU...even having Azibuike out there will make the offense flow more easily..I think Penn hugged the 3 pt line because they knew KU had no inside scoring threat..little different when you have to double team him..hopefully they can take care of Seton Hall and have DOk back at near 100% in the sweet 16

Marius Rowlanski 3 years ago

I disagree, Len. Embiid did have an injured knee but it was his back that kept him out of the postseason. Maybe the knee led to the back injury if he was overcompensating and if that's true then maybe you got it right.

I read several articles indicating that the ligaments in his knee were stretched but not torn in any way. I think Udoka starts on Saturday and plays 20+ minutes.

Chad Smith 3 years ago

Main difference between this and embiid is embiid was a season ending injury and now looking back very serious injury as he is finally fully recovered and killing it in the NBA.

Dok is still out there playing, embiid had no shot and we knew that in 2014. If we manage to win saturday dok will be fully healthy by next weekend to be a difference maker.

Craig Carson 3 years ago

not KU fan should have expected him to go out there and play big minutes and catch lob dunks..he played like a kid who hadnt been on the court in a week and was probably a little stiff

Jim Stauffer 3 years ago

I am just not sure Dok can be flexible enough to be effective. Especially this soon. I really think with the big guy from SH being so strong we might need De Sousa big time Saturday. Need a performance similar to WVU.

Craig Carson 3 years ago

even having Azibuike out there at 80% will help ease pressure off of shooters..SH will have to give inside help regardless..that should free up shooters..SH is dangerous because they have 2 good guards plus a quality big man....KU is gonna have to hit some serious 3's in this game

Marius Rowlanski 3 years ago

How flexible do you want his knee should be? He is wearing a brace to help prevent side to side movement and he stated that as far as catching passes and scoring that there wasn't a problem.

I'm not dismissing your concern because if he isn't out there tomorrow, I'll be the one looking stupid but will be just as disappointed

Andy Godwin 3 years ago

Now you understand why Self stated it was a grade I sprain and that he would know more about Udoka's progress after selection Sunday. If he made it out to be serious and that it could preclude him from playing in the tournament, then the selection committee could/would have taken that information into consideration. “We’re a 1 seed based on our personnel,” Self said. “If we don’t have our big guy, are we really a 1 seed? Self knows the game on and off the court.

Blake Brown 3 years ago

What I saw happen when Dok came in changed the game. Penn now had to protect against the lob and therefore had to drop back and help out of the week side just a step or 2. That opened up the outside and even when he returned to the bench, they did not readjust and we had a little more daylight.

Craig Carson 3 years ago

I said that same thing..even an Azibuike at 80% will have to command enough respect to double team..that leaves shooters and driving lanes open..KU has shown they can play without Dok..if Delgado has to sit, Dok wont play any serious minutes though so DeSousa is gonna have to be a force inside. All I can say is, our 3's need to drop and Seton Halls big man better not do a Jordan Bell impression on us LOL

Harlan Hobbs 3 years ago

The Jordan Bell reference is a key point. Delgado is a tough dude, so KU has to find a way to somewhat neutralize him. I'm pretty confident that Coach Self and his staff will find a way. They almost always do.

To me, the bottom line is that KU beat WVU without any input from Dok, and Seton Hall is not as good as WVU. That's not to say that the Hall isn't capable of winning. They clearly are. However, anything that Dok can give us against them is a plus, and our biggest advantages still are the leadership of Devonte and the genius of a Hall of Fame coach.

Craig Carson 3 years ago

Delgado is tough but he isnt the rim protector Bell was...they just gotta make sure they arent settling for contested 3's..they have to attack and try to get him in foul trouble. I can see Self playing Azibuike bout 20 minutes

Brad Watson 3 years ago

It's time for THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT to play at a level like Buffalo did last night....a Jerod Haase level...not only did they beat Arizona...they beat them by wasn't even close.... a blow out......if you play at a energy level of a Jerod blow people out of the gym.....So we need Thunderbolt DeSousa and Mitch Lighfoot to really show up tomorrow ...and we can sprinkle in Dok... in the 2nd half....and of course we need all the other great players on our team to play at Jerod Haase levels also....Seton Hall is the kind of team that historically.... we have had trouble with...that's is why the energy factor is so important...I cannot emphasis it win to you have to leave it all out there....tomorrow is another championship game...its for all the marbles.... and with our Superstar Coach leading the charge.......I am confident ...he will have our team ready to go.... full throttle...I am really looking forward to it!

Brad Watson 3 years ago


Brad Watson 3 years ago

i BELIEVE IN THIS TEAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Brad Watson 3 years ago

WE ARE BEHIND YOU 100%!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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