Equally skilled at scoring and rebounding, Seton Hall senior forward Angel Delgado presented one of the toughest matchups for Kansas big men all season.
Heading into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks could face more players like him.
Clemson, KU’s opponent in the Sweet 16 on Friday (6:07 p.m., CBS), is led by 6-foot-9, 237-pound junior Elijah Thomas but he’s not as prolific as an offensive rebounder as 6-foot-10, 245-pound Delgado. Thomas does average 10.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, ranking fourth in the ACC with 2.24 blocks per game.
If the Jayhawks advance to the Elite Eight, they could face prolific scorers and rebounders like Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. or Syracuse’s Oshae Brissett. Bagley is fifth in the nation with 21 double-doubles this season, only one behind Delgado. Carter, a more traditional center than Bagley, has recorded 15.
The 6-foot-11 Bagley and 6-foot-10 Carter combined for 26 rebounds (seven offensive) against Texas center Mo Bamba in November.
With the benefit of already facing Delgado, their second-round win gives the Jayhawks a blueprint of how they will need to attack some of the top forwards remaining in their region. Of course, it’s unlikely any of those forwards will have as much success as Delgado. He became the fifth player in the last 40 years to record 20-plus points and rebounds in an NCAA Tournament game.
What saved Kansas, in the eyes of coach Bill Self, was Udoka Azubuike’s performance to fight strength with strength.
“If Udoka wasn’t able to come back from his injury, we don't win,” Self said afterward.
Delgado had 12 points (5-for-9 shooting), 11 rebounds and one turnover when matched up against Lightfoot. Seven of his 11 rebounders were on the offensive end, tormenting the Jayhawks with second-chance points.
In four minutes against De Sousa, Delgado had four points, three rebounds and a blocked shot. Self said the game was a “little bit too big” for De Sousa. At this point of the season, the Jayhawks can’t afford wasted offensive possessions when players are out of position.
“We obviously couldn’t guard (Delgado),” Self said. “Angel had 12 and 12 at halftime. This isn’t a knock to Mitch, but Mitch physically is going to have a hard time with that.”
Azubuike limited Delgado to eight points and nine rebounds — only one offensive board. The Dominican Republic native shot 4 of 6 against Azubuike but opted to attempt more jumpers and short hook shots.
“Second half, I thought Dok actually defended him pretty good,” Self said. “Of the 24 he got, he probably got six or eight on Dok and the rest were on our other guys. We thought that our best chance was to put a big, heavy body on him.”
Afterward, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said he wished the Pirates would’ve fed the ball more to Delgado when he was guarded by Azubuike. They went away from him, looking for other scoring options, because Azubuike’s size took so much energy out of Delgado.
In December, Syracuse’s Brissett had 13 points and nine rebounds against KU, but only one rebound was on the offensive end.
“You just gotta give him credit,” Delgado said of Azubuike. “He's an unbelievable player. He did a great job with his bad knee. You just gotta give credit to great players.”
Wichita — Hoping to receive 20 minutes from Udoka Azubuike on Saturday, Kansas coach Bill Self said he thought Azubuike was the team's most valuable player with the way he provided offense in the post and defended Seton Hall center Angel Delgado in a 83-79 win at Intrust Bank Arena.
"We won the game because of Dok," Self said. "That kid would've had 35 and 34 if Dok didn't play. I'm really, really thankful and proud of him for his attitude and coming back so quick."
Advancing to the Sweet 16, Self said he doesn't want to get caught up in how the team played as long as the Jayhawks continue to win.
"We have to win two more games to get where we want to go but so proud of our kids and certainly nobody can say they haven't had a great season," Self said. "Now we have to go make great (turn into) special."
Watching practice from the baseline at Sprint Center on Wednesday ahead of the start of the Big 12 Tournament, injured Kansas sophomore Udoka Azubuike constantly tried to help coach the players who would be filling his minutes.
Whenever freshman Silvio De Sousa wasn’t involved in a play, Azubuike stood beside him to offer pointers. When De Sousa was back on the court, Azubuike yelled reminders to him and clapped when he successfully rolled to the basket after a screen or pinned his defender with a move in the low post.
The Jayhawks are hopeful that Azubuike — sidelined with a Grade 1 medial-collateral ligament sprain in his knee — will be healthy enough to play in next week’s NCAA Tournament. But they noticed that he’s handling this injury better than his season-ending wrist injury last year.
“When he broke his (wrist), it messed with him,” KU coach Bill Self said.
Devonte’ Graham added: “He’s actually had a pretty good attitude since (Thursday) morning. At shoot-around, he was out there clapping and stuff like that. He didn’t seem as down as he was last year.”
When Azubuike tore ligaments in his wrist last year, it was the first time he’s ever suffered a season-ending injury. He felt like it came at a time when he was just starting to figure out the speed of the college game.
As a 17-year-old freshman, Azubuike started started in six games and averaged 5 points and 4.4 rebounds.
“It was a bit frustrating for me not being able to play my freshman year,” Azubuike said earlier this season. “Sometimes stuff happens for a reason."
Azubuike credited his family for trying to help him stay positive through the rehab process. He watched and learned from Landen Lucas, but he was disappointed that he couldn’t help the team more.
His roommate Clay Young — matching the oldest player on the team with the youngest player — suffered a torn ACL injury before he transferred to Kansas. It gave Young a way to relate to Azubuike and he tried to help him cope with his teammate’s first injury.
“My mom is really religious, she’s like real Christian,” Azubuike said. “Each time she talked to me, she always read a Bible verse or tried to encourage me. That really, really helped me a lot just to stay the course and keep my head straight.”
In the offseason, Azubuike was healthy and tried to improve his own game. He added a hook shot to his offensive arsenal. He’s worked to become a better defender.
But one of his proudest achievements was something he accomplished away from any game. It happened without any fans watching. Before the start of his sophomore season, he completed all eight days of the team’s boot camp.
“I think he was pretty nervous to have to go through it all but he did well and he ran pretty well,” Young said. “I was happy for him.”
Azubuike is expected to be re-evaluated by doctors Sunday, which should give him and the Jayhawks a clearer picture if he will be available for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
But his teammates are proud of the way Azubuike has handled his latest setback.
"He's maturing," Self said.