Kansas defeats Clemson, 80-76

  • 6:07 p.m., March 23, 2018
  • CenturyLink Center, Omaha,

Friday, March 23, 2018

Still Dancin’: Azubuike leads Jayhawks to third straight Elite Eight appearance

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) delivers a jam before Clemson forward Mark Donnal (5) during the first half, Friday, March 23, 2018 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) delivers a jam before Clemson forward Mark Donnal (5) during the first half, Friday, March 23, 2018 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.


Omaha, Neb. — After rolling to a 14th straight Big 12 regular season title a little more than a month ago, the Kansas men's basketball team now sits one win away from adding an ACC title to its 2017-18 haul.

Oh, and a trip to the Final Four.

Thanks to a strong start and a hold-on-for-dear-life finish on Friday night, top-seeded Kansas knocked off No. 5 seed Clemson 80-76 at the three-ACC-school regional semifinals at CenturyLink Center to advance to the program's third consecutive Elite Eight, where the Jayhawks will face yet another ACC squad, second-seeded Duke (29-7), in Sunday's regional final.

Tip-off is set for 4:05 p.m. central time on CBS.

Although the end result on Friday was exactly what the Jayhawks (30-7) wanted, their path to get there was as beautiful and bumbling as the rest of their season.

From up 20 and rolling two minutes into the second half to clinging to a four-point lead with 14.5 seconds to play, the Jayhawks were everything in Friday's final 18 minutes that they have been all season long — dangerous, dizzying, dramatic and victorious.

And there was not a player in the excited Kansas locker room who minded one bit.

After all, when it comes to March Madness and the survive-and-advance nature of the NCAA Tournament, the how becomes much less important than the bottom line. And on Friday night, KU's bottom line was better than Clemson's from start to finish.

“Every stage in this tournament is a blessing,” said sophomore center Udoka Azubuike, who returned to KU's starting lineup and delivered 14 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes. “From the Sweet 16 to the Elite Eight, every step you take in this tournament, it's a different vibe, it has a different feel to it and I feel blessed.”

On Friday, it was the Jayhawks who were blessed by Azubuike's presence. After scoring the first bucket of the game on a strong post move, Azubuike continued to assert himself inside all night.

Foul issues kept him shuffling in and out of the lineup for most of the game, but when he was on the floor, Azubuike proved to be too much for Clemson to handle.

He made 7 of 9 field goals — most of them dunks — and blocked two shots while grabbing four offensive rebounds.

“To me, he doesn't look as good scoring the ball on the block,” KU coach Bill Self said of Azubuike. “But he got angles today. We were able to throw the ball over the top and get a couple easy dunks and that's what he does. But defensive rebounding and everything, I thought he was terrific, considering he really hasn't practiced much.”

When asked if he felt like Clemson (25-10) had any real answer for him, Azubuike said simply, “not really.”

Azubuike was far from the only Jayhawk responsible for moving the Jayhawks into the Elite Eight for the third straight year, marking the first time since 2002-04 that Kansas has achieved that feat.

Malik Newman (17 points), Devonte' Graham (16) and Lagerald Vick (13) joined Azubuike in double figures, and each had more than a couple of key moments or plays that helped Kansas build that 20-point lead that proved insurmountable.

“We just came out with a chip on our shoulder,” Vick said. “We've been here and we just had to send a statement from the jump and go out and play Kansas basketball, being aggressive.”

Kansas led for 38:30 of the 40-minute game and never really was in jeopardy of losing its lead.

“I'll think about how we got up 20 as opposed to how we almost gave it away,” Self joked after the game. “Fortunately, it never got to one possession.”

Like most of this wild and crazy KU season, very little came easy, and the Jayhawks had to grind this one out with their two most important players fighting serious foul trouble for the game's final 15 minutes.

Graham and Azubuike picked up their third fouls 34 seconds apart with a little more than 14 minutes to play. They each sat, at different times, for a few minutes and wound up staying on the bench for exactly 3:03 while re-entering at different times, as well.

Later, Graham, who last week set the school record for most minutes played in a single season, picked up his fourth foul with 8:10 to play and sat for 2:42 before closing out the game.

During that stretch, Azubuike also picked up his fourth foul at the 7:13 mark and sat a little more than a minute before re-entering with 5:57 to play, then exiting for good after picking up his fifth foul with 2:30 to play and KU leading by just six points.

Graham wound up playing 35 minutes, which marked his lowest output since a home win over Oklahoma on Feb. 19, and played fewer than 39 minutes for just the third time since Jan. 15.

“It was harder to execute without those two tonight,” Vick said. “But we pulled it off.”

“Pulled it off” was the perfect way to describe KU's Friday night victory, and just about every player who checked into this game made at least one memorable contribution.

Vick's 13-point night included three 3-pointers and one, far-above-the-golden-valley putback dunk that came when the Jayhawks were playing at their best.

Freshman Silvio De Sousa contributed nine points and six rebounds in 13 minutes in relief of Azubuike. Like Vick, the 6-foot-9 reserve forward delivered one of the game's biggest highlights, the first coming on a half-court alley-oop pass from Graham that put KU up 25-19 and forced a Clemson timeout with 7:42 to play in the first half.

And then there was Newman, who remained red hot and kept his confidence sky high by knocking in 4 of 7 3-pointers and carried much of the load for handling the ball when Graham sat out.

Although Friday's final five minutes saw a once-comfortable double-digit lead disappear faster than free tickets to Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks, as they seemingly have done for most of the season, found a way to hold it together, refusing to let their razor-thin margin for error do them in.

A big part of that was owed to Graham, who, in true Graham fashion, added four assists and five rebounds, including arguably the biggest rebound of the game on a missed 3-pointer by Svi Mykhailiuk that just beat the shot clock with 1:57 to play and Kansas leading by just six. But so much of KU's latest survive-and-advance act also belonged to Self.

The players know that, and they also know that when they wake up Sunday, they'll be back where they wanted to be all season, playing for a trip to the Final Four in San Antonio.

“It's been a great year,” Self said. “I mean, for this team to win 30 games and win the league and the league tournament and play in the biggest game of the year so far on Sunday, it's been great, but it would be nice to make it special. And I think in order to do that, at Kansas, you have to go to a Final Four. I honestly believe that.”

Added Newman: “This is why you come to Kansas, to experience the best of the best and to have fun doing it. I wouldn't rather do it with any other group of guys.”

More news and notes from Kansas vs. Clemson

By the Numbers: Kansas 80, Clemson 76.

By the Numbers: Kansas 80, Clemson 76.


Brian Leslie 3 years, 7 months ago

"the Jayhawks were everything in Friday's final 18 minutes that they have been all season long — dangerous, dizzying, dramatic and victorious." Breaking out the trochaic meter - nicely written, Matt.

Lex Valdez 3 years, 7 months ago

Please allow the third time to be the charm... RCJH!

Tony Bandle 3 years, 7 months ago

We can beat anyone taller than us but slow. We can beat anyone faster than us but small. What I am afraid of is we can't beat a team taller than us and just as fast. Duke has three talented bigs to our one. Our only chance of winning is to have the best night of the season shooting the three. Duke just had their worst night of the season shooting the won't happen again.

All that being said, this season all rational reason and facts go out the window.


Dirk Medema 3 years, 7 months ago

Silvio disagrees with your assessment of the team.

Duke is as likely to have 2 bad 3 pt shooting nights as Graham is to have 3.

Steve Zimmerman 3 years, 7 months ago

Great contribution from everyone. Well, except Lightfoot, and Garrett. :(

We've got to give it all in the next game, beat Dookes. Please replay tape when Mason & Jackson played their hearts out picking up a good W last year. Now, they've got Bagley, Duval and Allen - all high energy & NBA-ready players. "Oh, and a trip to the Final Four." --- It's a loooong shot, but we're witnessing miracles after miracles with the current team right now. I don't mind another one!! I wish to see Malik throwing lobs when penetrating instead of challenging the defenders. He's gotta have a guard's vision. So many times DeSousa and Dok are left alone when Malik driving to the basket. C'mon guys, give it all you've got!! ROCK CHALK!!!!

Mike Riches 3 years, 7 months ago

A nice tweet by Gottlieb sums up how I feel:

"Down year for KU. Big 12 Champs. Big 12 tourney Champs. Elite 8" (@GottliebShow)

We could add 30 wins too...why pick against them now? Rock Chalk!

Tony Bandle 3 years, 7 months ago


1] KU was 2 points away from having six players in double figures!

2] Was Lightfoot hurt or was he just not a good match.

3] Watching Silvio and assuming Dok is coming back, with Lawson and McCormack, i am afraid Mitch is going to see a lot of bench time.

4] Everything about Coach K is fake...including his hair color.

5] Whatever you do, don't wake Vick up.....he's playing great ball.

6] It appears the Midwest is the only sane region this year.

7] I know I should cheer for K-State versus Loyola but how in the heck can you cheer against a 98 year old nun!!?? Hell, I might get struck down by a lightning bolt!!!

8] In the post game show everyone picked Duke to win except Wichita State's Greg Marshall who picked KU. We got to get that guy when Bill moves on!!!

9] Every KU fan in western Iowa needs to drive over to Omaha Sunday and find a ticket.

Tony Bandle 3 years, 7 months ago

PS Three teams from the Big 12 in the Elite Eight!!! Toughest league in America!!!

Andy Tweedy 3 years, 7 months ago

I was at the game, there are tix to be had. Every KU fan in western, eastern, southern, northern anywhere get up here and help us displace the argyle wearing, wine and cheese Creighton crowd!!!

Dirk Medema 3 years, 7 months ago

1] Great balance!

2] Bad match up.

3] I wouldn't assume just because he has so much untapped potential. The NBA loves potential, and next year should be a total flip - back to front court strength. Not likely to have 4 guards sets, so more minutes up front.

5] It is great to have him playing aggressive again. Svi and Dtae probably need to relax a bit.

6] Except for a 3 seed advancing over a 2, the South was actually more sane this year. Definitely polar opposite to the other 2 regions.

7] It is good for us to have them loving Bruce, but still frustrated.

8] Their the number 2 seed now in the whole tourney, and we're 10th. Of course they're picked to win, and Kentucky has the easiest path to the FF, and ...

9] Wishing.

Ben Kane 3 years, 7 months ago

I'm really hoping he comes back. He would be so dominant next year it's hard to see how he wouldn't be a top pick in the draft.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 7 months ago

3] If Lightfoot can improve his game as much as he did from his first season, then he will get minutes. Self always seems to prefer experience to talent with everything else being equal.

Tracey Graham 3 years, 7 months ago

Remember how, prior to this tournament started, Bill Self was asked how important it was for the Big 12 to do well in order to try and dispel the rep it had for not doing very well in recent years?

Well, I think 3 Big 12 teams in the Elite 8 qualifies as "doing well" :) ( And West Virginia hung with Villanova for all but the last few minutes of that game)

Dirk Medema 3 years, 7 months ago

It would be nice to have KU and someone else advance. That's been the knock all along on the Big 12 - that there isn't anyone after KU, and even we have only been around for the final weekend once in 14 years.

Bryce Landon 3 years, 7 months ago

Not true, we've been around for the Final Four twice in 14 years - 2008 and 2012. And while that isn't as good as it should be, it's better that everyone else in the conference. Only other Big 12 teams to make the Final Four in the Self era are Oklahoma State in 2004 and Oklahoma in 2016. (West Virginia's 2010 Final Four doesn't count because they were in the Big East at the time.)

Lex Valdez 3 years, 7 months ago

According to espn we only have an 8% chance to win it all. I say it`s our time to prove the basketball world wrong and go for glory Hawks!

Steve Zimmerman 3 years, 7 months ago

How is Dok against zone? I forgot how effective or did we use him during vs Syracuse? I'm pretty sure Dookes will use zone against us. Their length will be problematic for our guards to fly those treys. We'll need Vick to make his jumpers from the FT.

Chad Smith 3 years, 7 months ago

Duke plays zone, but i wouldnt say its exactly like Syracuse, they cheated both their wings of the 3 person backline a lot, almost making it appear like a 1-3-1. What syracuse didnt take advantage of is once they got into the lane making a diagonal pass across the lane to a wide open man down low. The opportunity was there several times in the game last night and they either made a pass back to the perimeter or they shot a contested midrange jumper. We will shoot threes cuz we do that well. But dok and vick have to shine and hit the glass in this game.

Tony Bandle 3 years, 7 months ago

I woke up this morning from a dream that Kansas State was in the Elite Eight!! HA, HA...must have been something I ate.

Tony Bandle 3 years, 7 months ago

It appears fate has done no favors for our Hawks. The road to the Championship appears daunting.

1] Duke: NCAA, media and officiating favorite son, when you are playing Duke it's like going 5 on 8! At least now KU has a Hall of fame coach as well so the refs may be a little less intimidated by Rat face.

2] Next, most likely Villanova: In my mind, 'Nova has always been the true #1 seed in the tournament and maybe the most complete team KU will face this year.

3] It could be Michigan or KSU but I've got a sneaking suspicion that somehow Loyola may just survive because they are on a Mission from God!!! That would put KU as the bad guy.

Mike Greer 3 years, 7 months ago

If KU has to play Loyola-Chicago, I'll happily take that. That means we made it through 1) and 2) and that's going to be a challenge for all the reasons you point out.

Harlan Hobbs 3 years, 7 months ago

Love all the upbeat comments. I know that beating Duke will be a chore, but from my perspective, we are now playing with "house money."

The past two years against Villanova and Oregon (in our own backyard), we were at least slight favorites. This year, everyone seems to be picking Duke, and frankly I can't blame them. They clearly on paper have a monster team. However, there are reasons why they have lost more games than expected this year, and like KU, it has been inconsistency.

While three straight losses in the Elite 8 would be a downer, KU has really nothing to lose. Hopefully, they will play loose, and Coach Self will work his magic as KU has beaten more top rated teams than anybody this year. That's why they got the #1 seed, and were generally considered to be a #1 seed even before they topped it off by winning the Big 12 tournament.

In short, the team has already made me proud this year, so go out and make yourselves even prouder tomorrow.

Harlan Hobbs 3 years, 7 months ago

As for the article about Udoka, great work in the post by him and Silvio (23 points and 17 rebounds). That will get the job done!

Brad Watson 3 years, 7 months ago

The free throw shooting is so important....concentrate.....make sure you follow through....don't flick your hand...come on Dok...we need you to start making all of them....elbow in....follow through...and for the rest of the team...make your free throws....we need every possible point on is another championship should have no problem being ready to play Duke...and everyone who can get to Omaha...get there...and stand up the whole the are there to participate and show them by standing throughout and being as loud as possible.....and play loose and free with great intensity and intelligence...Coach K has done his you have to be at your very best...this is your time....this is your chance to make history....make the most of it!

Steve Zimmerman 3 years, 7 months ago

Tom/Matt, just a suggestion if you guys think writing this article makes sense. I'd like to see a compilation of top-performing freshmen this season. Particularly in those who were ranked low but performed like NBA picks. I'm really impressed with Zhaire Smith. He didn't get offers from powerhouse bball schools surprisingly. Beard & TTech are very lucky. Thanks y'all.

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