Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Azubuike’s limited shot attempts against Duke just one sign of an offense out of sync

Duke forward Javin DeLaurier (12) vies for a rebound with Kansas forward David McCormack and center Udoka Azubuike (35) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Duke forward Javin DeLaurier (12) vies for a rebound with Kansas forward David McCormack and center Udoka Azubuike (35) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)


Four shots in 30 minutes for the Big 12 Conference’s preseason player of the year is not the recipe the third-ranked Kansas men’s basketball team wanted to follow heading into Tuesday’s 68-66 loss to Duke in New York.

And there was plenty of blame to go around for why 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike’s shot attempts were so low.

“I think we missed a whole lot of passes to Dok where he was wide open,” junior guard Marcus Garrett said after Tuesday’s game. “Like coach said, ‘Every time he’s open, give it to him.’”

Don’t mistake Azubuike’s 3-of-4 shooting performance in the opener for a lack of touches. Despite Garrett’s claim that the Kansas guards missed Azubuike at times, there were plenty of other moments where the senior caught the ball on the block but did not do anything with it.

Whether that led to labored possessions, shot clock violations or those 28 Kansas turnovers, the lack of rhythm in the Kansas offense was one of several issues the Jayhawks (0-1) encountered in their loss to the Blue Devils.

“I actually practiced it quite a bit and I was disappointed because he made some single coverages double teams by being slow with the move,” said KU coach Bill Self when asked how Azubuike could be better against double teams. “If you catch it and shoot it, there’s no double team. But if you catch it and bounce it and think, that allows them to trap down. He’ll get better at that.”

One area Azubuike did improve was his free throw shooting. After making just one of nine attempts in KU's two exhibition victories, the 7-foot center hit 2 of 3 from the free-throw line in the high-stakes game against Duke. But those two makes, though both crucial, registered as little more than a footnote to an otherwise rough night that ended with Azubuike tallying 8 points and eight rebounds in 30 minutes.

Self attributed some of Azubuike’s lack of feel to the rust of having played just nine games a season ago.

“I don’t want to make excuses,” Self began. “But I think (for) he and Silvio (De Sousa), it was a little bit different than probably what it would’ve been if they had been playing last year. They basically both had the year off and I thought that it felt a little different for them out there than it will moving forward.”

With the Jayhawks struggling to get Azubuike going in the paint, 3-point looks being virtually non-existent and turnovers interrupting any rhythm they did have, KU’s best offense became obvious — get the ball to Garrett or point guard Devon Dotson and let them attack the rim.

“I remember when we played Kentucky one year (2011-12), the year they won it and we ended up meeting them in the finals, our only offense was just get the ball to Tyshawn (Taylor) and drive it downhill,” Self said. “And that was basically what we resorted to tonight with Devon and Marcus.”

That was in half-court sets. In transition, where the they outscored Duke 17-15, the Jayhawks had nearly twice as many turnovers as made buckets.

“I actually thought there were multiple times in transition where we didn’t pitch ahead,” Self said. “And if you pitch ahead, you go make a layup or put pressure on them. But we basically guarded ourselves by the ball sticking some today.”

Garrett said Self emphasized that point in the locker room after the game. And while the KU coach was talking about it at the podium, sophomore guard Ochai Agbaji, who finished with five turnovers, at least a few of them coming in transition, could be seen nodding his head.

“The biggest thing he said was we weren’t kicking up the ball. It was one man just trying to go down and make a play at the last minute and the defense was able to get their hands on the ball and things like that,” Garrett noted of Self’s postgame dissection. “In practice, we pitch the ball up the floor. I feel like we didn’t execute well. Some things that we do well in practice, we didn’t execute in the game.”

Another area the Kansas offense struggled was ball movement.

Less than a week after getting open look after open look and knocking in 17 of 37 from 3-point range in an exhibition win over Pittsburg State, Kansas took just nine 3-point attempts against Duke, making four of them.

Part of that was the fact that KU often had multiple players on the floor who do not have the all clear to shoot from distance whenever they’re open. But the other part of it was a lack of rhythm.

“I think the floor definitely shrunk from the opening tip,” Self said. “They didn’t have to guard our bigs away from the basket and our bigs and our guards didn’t really do a very good job of getting open and moving the ball and making the defense go from strong to weak back to strong and those sorts of things.

“We’ve got to figure out how we can stretch the floor with two bigs in the game because certainly that wasn’t effective tonight very much at all.”

For all of the things that didn’t work or weren’t quite right in this one, the Jayhawks remained in the game down to the wire.

Although that sliver of sunshine was not lost on anyone in crimson and blue — its specifics sounding awfully similar to words uttered by the two losing coaches at the Champions Classic year after year — Self was not ready to fully call that a blessing in disguise on his way out the door.

“I don’t ever want to say there’s good losses because it remains to be seen if something good comes from this,” he said. “But I hope we have a mindset that something good can come from this.”

KU returns to the court at 8 p.m. Friday for their home opener against UNC Greensboro at Allen Fieldhouse.


Bill Corrigan 1 year, 3 months ago

Right from the outset, this one was a tough game to watch.

Pius Waldman 1 year, 3 months ago

Yes after the game much easier to suggest changes to what happened. One that I feel is Dok stands very close to the rim expects to get passes so he can dunk. There was a play where he bounced a pass to a player who scored a set up. Had he been close to the rim that couldn't happen. Maybe some practice dribbling from away from the goal to try to score might work. Hope I'm wrong but so far it appears he is over rated. He appears to be in much better condition maybe a few games will guide him to play better.

Robert Brock 1 year, 3 months ago

Things will get better. Tough way to start. Learn!

Steve Zimmerman 1 year, 3 months ago

I like those nice back cuts. I like those dunks. But, as stated above, we have a lot of work to do on offense. Sadly, our defense is stinky, too. How the heck did a smaller team get more offensive rebounds than us? How did we give up 10 rebounds to Dookie?

Allan Olson 1 year, 3 months ago

I am amazed that in four years, Dok very often just positions himself offensively for a dunk move, as he did as a freshman. Still a one-trick pony and everyone knows where the rabbit is.

Jim Stauffer 1 year, 3 months ago

This is exactly the case. We will do better to go with one big man. It appears Dok is not functional with two. 4 guys on the perimeter draw sufficient attention away to allow a quick pass to him for his one step move. I think we will be a better overall team playing Silvio or David as the 5 for at least half the game with four shooters around them. That seems to be the game today. Duke crowded Dok and he simply had to pass out of the post.

Steve Zimmerman 1 year, 3 months ago

Amen, bro!! The only constant here is the coaching staff. Relying too much and too often on hi-lo, inbound passing. Not so much of pick and pop or pick and roll or pick and strike.

Dale Stringer 1 year, 3 months ago

We'll be fine playing two bigs if we ever get three outside guys willing to take a shot. Nine three-point attempts for an entire game is bad.

Dennis Strick 1 year, 3 months ago

When I watch Dok play last season and this one so far I see a player who appears to not care and really has zero passion for the game. Maybe he just wants to move on to the NBA. From what Im seeing the team will not be able to count on him in crunch time. Does not make him a bad person just a young man without burning desire to help us win a championship. Also, why is he always winded after just a couple trips up and down the court? Medical condition? You may want to try lots of laps in the pool to build endurance.

Jeff Kallmeyer 1 year, 3 months ago

Way too many excuses by everyone, including Self. The bigger problem, and it's the same one we had last year, we're too soft and we usually get out-hustled, out-muscled and out-coached!

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