For the second time in three home games this season, an opposing player left Allen Fieldhouse asking one key question about KU big man Udoka Azubuike.
“Man, what do you all feed him,” East Tennessee State guard Tray Boyd III said Tuesday night after KU’s 75-63 victory. “Goodness.”
On Tuesday, Azubuike feasted on a diet of well-timed entry passes, each of which he gobbled up and turned into the latest entry on his own personal highlight reel.
“He was great,” junior guard Marcus Garrett said after watching Azubuike drop 21 points on 10 of 13 game-changing shots. “This was the first team that didn’t double him and you see what happens when you don’t double him.”
Added point guard Devon Dotson: “That’s what happens.”
Three times in the second half, Azubuike halted ETSU runs with crowd-pleasing dunks that East Tennessee State coach Steve Forbes said added more than just points to the scoreboard. Forbes said Azubuike's presence required his team to make major adjustments.
“He’s like another planet out there,” Forbes said of the KU senior. “He’s so good. He’s got great hands.”
Forbes later referred to Azubuike’s hands as clamps and said the only chance opposing defenses have to stop him is by sending another defender running Azubuike’s way when the entry pass is in the air.
ETSU calls that player the gaucho.
“If he’s not there to knock it out of the air, it’s over,” Forbes said of the gaucho help defender. “It’s over. I don’t care who you are. The best thing you can do is Hack-A-Shaq him. But I promise you, we fouled him three times and he just dunked (the ball) in the basket and they didn’t call it. We couldn’t even foul him. He’s ridiculous.”
Told later that Forbes referred to him as “a planet,” Azubuike smiled and complimented Forbes’ team.
“It’s an honor for a coach like that (to say that),” he expressed. “He has a real good team. For him to say that to me, I’m really humbled.”
Self said Azubuike was “by far” KU’s best offensive player on Tuesday night and Dotson said that was by design.
Throughout the past few days, the Jayhawks emphasized throwing the ball inside as often as possible, therein allowing the three big bodies they have to go to work.
Silvio De Sousa and David McCormack each got their share of post entry passes in this one, but, with ETSU guarding Azubuike straight up, the easy move for the KU guards was to throw it Azubuike’s way and sit back and watch the show.
“The guys did a good job of feeding me the ball,” Azubuike said.
Dotson, who finished the night with six assists, agreed.
“It was very effective this game, just being conscious and aware of the bigs and seeing their position and trying to get them touches and play through them a little more,” he said.
Azubuike added seven rebounds, four blocks and three steals to his stat line in his 29 minutes on Tuesday, against just one turnover. His struggles at the free-throw line, however, continued. He made just one of four attempts, but the one he made came in an unusual fashion.
Up six with ETSU charging hard and closing fast, Azubuike caught the ball in the post, made a quick move for a rim-rattling dunk. He also was fouled on the play. At the line, Azubuike was preparing to shoot but stopped when he thought the referee was going to call a lane violation on an ETSU player. He started to hand the ball to the referee and then heard from his coach.
“Shoot it," Self screamed.
Unfazed, Azubuike swished the shot, Kansas led by nine and the Jayhawks held on from there.
Asked after the win if he heard Self scream, Azubuike said: “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I did hear it. It was kind of funny and I was like, ‘OK.’ He kind of gave me an eye after I shot it and I was like, ‘My bad.’”
After having tried just about everything to help cure Azubuike’s free-throw woes, Self left Tuesday’s victory considering a similar strategy on the rest of Azubuike’s free-throw attempts.
“When a guy steps in, it’s a freebie,” Self explained. “It’s like jumping offsides (in football) and you get a free play. He was going to hand the ball back to the official. So I just yelled at him to shoot it. And you know what? It looked pure when it left his hand. And you know why? Because he wasn’t thinking about it. So maybe somebody just needs to be yelling at him the whole time when he’s shooting it. It’s hard to believe; you go 1 for 4 and you’re thinking, ‘Yeah, pretty good.’”