A depleted Kansas men’s basketball team was put to the test in the Big 12/SEC Challenge against Tennessee on Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse.
In the end, the Jayhawks had the key players necessary to pull off a 74-68 win for their fourth victory in a row. No. 3 Kansas is now 5-2 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, which began in 2013. KU also leads the series with Tennessee, 4-1, including a 2-0 record in Lawrence.
Sophomore point guard Devon Dotson and starting center Udoka Azubuike were instrumental in helping KU (16-3) find a way to win with a limited use of scholarship players. Kansas had a seven-player rotation for its nonconference tilt while Silvio De Sousa and David McCormack were suspended for their involvement in the brawl with Kansas State on Tuesday.
Azubuike, who dealt with foul trouble for the first time in several weeks, proved to be too much for the opposition to handle when he was on the floor. He then came through with four free throws in the final four minutes, when the Volunteers (12-7) attempted to send him to the charity stripe on purpose.
Dotson, meanwhile, was a key reason why the Jayhawks led by as many as 13 at one point. He attacked the rim with ease and got plenty of his teammates involved as well. Dotson finished with a team-high 22 points in the win, while Azubuike poured in 18 points. Ochai Agbaji joined them in double figures with 16 points.
Here’s a quick look back at some of the action:
• The game turned when: Kansas coach Bill Self elected to trust his big man.
Azubuike dealt with early foul trouble to begin the first half, the one thing that couldn’t have happened in this game. Azubuike picked up his second foul at the 10:39 mark, and went to the bench for the next five minutes.
Trailing 26-19, Self inserted Azubuike back into the mix with 5:48 left in the first half. The Jayhawks immediately went on a 12-0 run to reclaim the advantage. They eventually led by a 37-30 margin at the intermission.
Tennessee struggled to defend Azubuike inside, which was especially evident during that stretch. Self deserves credit for trusting his center in the first place, too. Entering Saturday, Kansas ranked 88th in the country in 2-foul participation via KenPom.
• Offensive highlight: After a sluggish start to the game, Azubuike rewarded the Kansas faithful with a slam to get them involved in the contest.
In reality, Dotson deserves a ton of credit for this play. Self has encouraged his players to just throw the ball up around the rim. That’s exactly what happened on the game’s first successful lob, which gave Kansas an 8-6 advantage.
View a gallery of photos from Saturday's game between the Jayhawks and Volunteers at Allen Fieldhouse.
Dotson, who actually had a really good game passing the rock, lofted the ball near the rim and Azubuike finished the sequence off with a powerful slam.
• Another highlight: Agbaji finally got in on the dunk-fest early in the second half.
After a first half that featured multiple slams by Azubuike, Kansas ran a lob to get a flush for its sophomore wing. Agbaji, who got behind a defender on the baseline, caught the pass from junior guard Marcus Garrett.
The abundance of dunks should be surprising, considering Tennessee has been effective at limiting such plays. Entering Saturday, UT ranked fourth in the country in defensive 2-point field goal percentage with a clip of 41.2%.
• Up next: Kansas will travel to Oklahoma State at 8 p.m. Monday.