Udoka Azubuike snapped his head back and dropped the ball on the ground. Today’s 1-3-1 blog explains what went into his frustrations, plus how each of his fouls happened in Baylor's 80-64 win over the Jayhawks. If you have any plays or sequences you’d like to see GIFed please tweet @ChasenScott or comment below.
Previous breakdowns can also be found at the bottom of this story.
Play of the game: An untimely own goal
Ever have one of those days where you can’t just catch a break?
You might have more in common with the KU men’s basketball team than you think.
“God, could anything more go wrong," said KU coach Bill Self, "on a day you get guys injured in warmups to basically dunking the ball for the other team.”
Not much, as it were.
Despite only scoring 20 points in the first half, the Jayhawks gutted their way back into the game against Baylor, an 80-64 loss. They pulled within two on a 3-pointer from Devonte’ Graham and did so again after a jumper by Lagerald Vick.
His next points didn’t quite go so well.
The own goal — or perhaps ‘Self-basket,' if you'd rather — was a perfect representation of KU’s inability to get over the hump. It also didn’t come by pure happenstance.
KU was in a 2-3 zone, which can create rebounding issues in of itself. The guards flew all around the court as Jake Lindsey dribbled and settled into more natural positions as he passed the ball to Mark Vital.
Vital attacked the hoop, and Udoka Azubuike moved to contest the shot. Svi Mykhailiuk probably could’ve done so just fine, especially with no Baylor players in the corner to worry about, but he slid past Vital.
Baylor’s Jo Lual-Acuil had inside position and, since Azubuike wasn’t there to block him out, had a straight shot to get the rebound. Vick had to hustle to try to get between him and the ball, but as he jumped up to get the rebound, he actually knocked it back into the hoop.
The play killed KU's momentum, preventing them from having a chance to tie the game — or take the lead — on the next possession. They pulled within two one more time, but that was as close as it got.
A trend: Hands off —
If Vick's mishap was frustrating, Azubuike's day put him on a whole other level.
The 7-foot, 280-pound big man picked up his fourth foul at the 17:54 mark in the second half of Saturday’s game. Self had plenty to say about that one — and all of them.
Let’s take a look at the first.
There’s no real way to sugarcoat this one. It’s a flop, and it isn’t a particularly good one.
Azubuike made contact with Lual-Acuil’s chest. A half-second later, the big man fell onto the floor and the charge was called..
“Hey we’ve gotten some calls, too, so I’m not saying we haven’t benefited from some whistles,” Self said with a laugh. “But that was one of the biggest flops I’ve ever seen. I mean the guy fell down a full second after supposedly there was contact.”
But Azubuike does wear some of the call — mostly because of the predictability.
“The whole deal, everybody knows that he’s going to lead with his left shoulder when he’s on the left block,” Self said. “He’s got to be smarter than that, to do that.”
Not all the fouls on Saturday were that embellished.
After defending Lual-Acuil well in the post, Azubuike was called for a foul for shoving Vital in the back.
It was a clear foul — Azubuike put both hands on Vital’s back — but it probably wouldn’t have been called if Vital had a better base and didn’t fall. It also would’ve been avoided entirely if… well... hear it from the coach:
“His second foul was a loose-ball foul. No one’s fault,” Self said. “The rebound goes through (Graham’s) hands. If (Graham) rebounds the ball, it never happens.”
Azubuike’s third foul didn’t have any such explanation. It was fairly standard, as he didn’t get into defensive position on the baseline quick enough and then had to jump forward to contest a shot by Vital, sending him to the ground in the process.
His fourth foul was the opposite. There wasn’t a loose ball, or even a live ball to go after. Really, it may have been the culmination of some frustrations earlier in the game — more on that in a second.
“The one that disappointed me,” Self said, “he just ran and ran right up a guy’s back, which was obvious. Easy call.”
Again, there was probably a little bit of an embellishment from Lual-Acuil, who was boxing out Azubuike on the play. But Azubuike didn’t do himself any favors.
He put both hands on Lual-Acuil and shoved him. The ball went in the net, but Azubuike still got tagged with the foul on what was a day full of frustration.
“I’m not saying they were bad calls. I’m not saying that at all,” Self said. “I’m just saying, just a little bit unfortunate in that particular game.”
One that stood out: Boiling point —
Before Azubuike’s fourth foul — 12 seconds before, in fact — he was standing under the hoop and letting out some frustration.
The bugaboo that caused it? A mishap between he, Graham and Mykhailiuk that allowed a rebound to bounce right to the Bears for an easy putback.
There were a few elements to this play that caused the rebound.
Earlier in the possession, Graham (6-2, 185 pounds) switched onto the bigger Tristan Clark (6-9, 240). When Clark and Vital stood near each other later in the possession, Mykhailiuk (6-8, 205) made a smart play, nudging Graham off the bigger man so that he could use some of his extra size in guarding him.
But Graham never really left the area, instead stepping toward Lual-Acuil and then hanging around the basket to go after the rebound.
Had Graham ran out to the perimeter, he could’ve boxed Vital out or even potentially discouraged him from going after the rebound in the first place. Given how well Mykhailiuk executed his boxout, Azubuike would’ve snagged the board without a problem.
Instead, Graham hung by the basket. The putback went up and in. Azubuike caught the ball and snapped his head back in frustration. He set the ball back down rather than tossing it to Graham and then ran back down the court.
Oh, and a tidbit pointed out by KU basketball beat writer Matt Tait, take a look at the top of the screen at the end of the play.
Mykhailiuk was ready to run. Graham was pushing the tempo up the court throughout the entire second half. But Azubuike slowed it all down by dropping the ball in frustration. Those are the types of things that will drive not only a coach crazy, but disrupt the whole team in the process.
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 71, TCU 64
1-3-1 breakdown: OSU 84, KU 79
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, K-State 56
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 79, TAMU 68
1-3-1 breakdown: OU 85, KU 80
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, Baylor 67
The 1-3-1 breakdown from KU’s 70-56 win over K-State features a strategy employed by the Jayhawks, one not executed by the Wildcats and the defensive highlight of Svi Mykhailiuk's career. If you have any plays or sequences you’d like to see GIFed please tweet @ChasenScott or comment below.
Previous breakdowns can also be found at the bottom of this story.
Play of the game: A simple switch —
Bill Self said it helped give his players a rest and keep them out of foul trouble. Devonte’ Graham called it the strategy that won Kansas the game.
So how much time did K-State coach Bruce Weber spend preparing for KU's 2-3 zone?
“None,” Weber said following a loss to the Jayhawks in Bramlage Coliseum.
Weber, now in his sixth year with the Wildcats, was flustered by the switch Self made late in the first half and again in the second.
KU hadn’t played much zone on the season — something Weber pointed out after the game — but he still felt his team should have done better against it.
“The last time Baylor zoned us, I don’t know, we carved it apart,” Weber said. “Moved the basketball, was one of the best zone clinics I’ve ever been a part of.”
Monday's game — albeit against a 2-3 zone and not a 1-3-1 — was no such thing.
K-State had a number of poor possessions against KU's zone, but that one showcased several of the issues.
There was some movement, but it almost felt like the Kansas State offense was operating in slow-motion. On the first ball-reversal, Levi Stockard — No. 34 — was slow getting to the short corner. Then when the ball came back to Dean Wade’s side, Stockard was slow getting to his spot once again.
The Wildcats did run other sets and found some success using a screener against the zone in the second half, but on that possession there was little-to-no execution of the things Weber said he wanted to see.
“Get it inside, move the basketball, misdirect, read the things,” Weber said. “Dean said, ‘(K-State had) no rhythm. I think that’s a great way to phrase (it). And I don’t know why.”
A trend: Gone but not forgotten —
For the second straight game, a KU opponent tried unsuccessfully to intentionally put KU center Udoka Azubuike on the line.
K-State waited to employ the infamous "Hack-a-Dok" strategy until the second half, but with the Wildcats one foul away from a one-and-one and KU flirting with putting the game out of reach, things were lining up for it to come into play.
“We talked about it at the timeout,” Weber said. “(The referees) warned us ahead of time that it had to be within the normal sequence of the game. I think Dean actually might of tried a couple times and just it didn’t happen.”
The possession started simply enough. Azubuike stood outside the paint and didn’t even move until he positioned himself for a potential offensive rebound off a Lagerald Vick drive.
The ball was blocked out of bounds with 15 seconds on the shot clock. K-State had another chance to foul.
This time, KU pretty much played right into K-State’s hands. Not only did Wade tug on Azubuike’s arm as he attempted to cut to receive the pass, Graham actually inbounded the ball right to the 7-foot, 280-pound big man.
Wade followed him out near the perimeter, guarding him closely and trying to knock the ball away, but there wasn’t anything deserving of a foul, so the play continued.
“(Wade) only had one foul,” Weber said of why he wanted to implement the strategy. “But he had to do it on some kind of play, like Oklahoma did.”
The third time around, KU made K-State pay.
Watch the bottom-left corner of the GIF. You can actually see Weber shaking his head at Wade, and then there’s a closeup of the coach with his arms out, as if he’s saying not to foul.
“It was the shot clock. It went down to eight and they had the ball out of bounds,” Weber said,” At that point I said, ‘Don’t foul. Let’s get a stop.’”
Easier said than done, apparently.
And even if K-State had wanted to come back and foul the next time, Azubuike wasn't involved in the ensuing play. At the next stoppage, Self took him out of the game entirely, finishing things out with Mitch Lightfoot on the floor.
One that stood out: Left hand, anyone? —
Svi Mykhailiuk has had a handful of blocks at the rim over his four-year KU career, but none were anywhere close to the quality of the chase-down swat he pulled off on Xavier Sneed on Monday.
Really, he owes the K-State guard a thank-you note.
Mykhailiuk’s block was impressive, but it probably shouldn’t have happened.
As Sneed broke down the court, he looked over his right shoulder twice — just like a wide receiver trying to gauge if anyone in the secondary might be able to catch him from behind.
Sneed undoubtedly saw Mykhailiuk, yet he took one more dribble and then tried to finish on the side of the rim Mykhailiuk was on.
If Sneed had adjusted and gone to the other side of the rim, not only would Mykhailiuk have not been able to reach the ball, he would’ve had to crash into Sneed and foul him to get the block.
Instead, Sneed didn’t opt to use his left hand. Well, someone did.
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 79, TAMU 68
1-3-1 breakdown: Oklahoma 85, KU 80
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, Baylor 67
Make no mistake — close games are seldom decided by only one play, player or sequence.
Yes, Udoka Azubuike went 1 for 8 at the line, but the Jayhawks could’ve scored in other ways.
KU missed 22 3-pointers — one or two of those might’ve changed the situation entirely — while Lagerald Vick, Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham shot a combined 15 for 44 (34.1 percent) from the field.
But once a close game gets to its final stages, every mistake is amplified, including one made by KU’s leader against the Sooners.
Devonte’ Graham was matched up on Trae Young for Oklahoma’s final possession of the 85-80 KU loss. Graham had done a decent job on Young, holding him to single-digit field-goal attempts for the first time this season and likely the first time in multiple years. (Young averaged better than 40 points per game in high school.)
So then it made sense for there to be extra attention on Young as Brady Manek came up to set a screen. But what happened was a lapse KU could not afford.
"The last one was on me," Graham said, admitting he and Svi Mykhailiuk were supposed to switch on the play.
Manek's screen was never set, as Mykhailiuk tipped his hand a little early and the OU forward sprung out behind the 3-point line, but KU had the right players in place to defend the play.
Mykhailiuk and Graham are more than familiar with each other, having played four years together and sharing a tight bond off the court.
It didn’t help them on Tuesday.
“We should’ve had the ball with a chance to tie or win,” Self said. “This happens a lot of time in sports. You know what you're supposed to do, but you think you can guard Trae better than the guy that you'd be switching with. And so you stay."
"That was a situation where they slipped the ball screen and obviously we didn't do a good job. ... And he's a great shooter."
So much of Tuesday’s game was centered on the strategy of Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger to have his team intentionally foul KU’s Udoka Azubuike, but various things around and during that time also went under the radar.
For example, if Self had deviated from his normal strategy, or if the referees had chosen to call a foul earlier in the game, Azubuike would’ve never been in that situation in the first place.
Kruger, who told his team to foul with about 3 minutes left, almost didn’t have to worry about the big man. Azubuike committed two fouls in the first half and was subsequently pulled, playing only five minutes.
Then he picked up two more — and nearly one on top of that — which might have revealed a way Self could get around the free throw issues altogether.
Azubuike crashed into Young chasing after an offensive rebound. The fans in Norman wanted a foul, but with Young having the ball and remaining upright, it probably was best for both teams if play continued.
Had Azubuike picked up a foul there and had Self stuck with him until he fouled out, the situation itself would’ve been avoided. That isn’t to say Self made a mistake in subbing in the first half to preserve his big man, but it certainly wasn’t the only time a foul call affected a strategy.
Moving into the actual intentional-foul part of the game, which started with KU up 2, Kruger tasked forward Matt Freeman with committing the fouls on Azubuike.
Freeman entered the game with 0 fouls, so there should have been five instances when Azubuike was at the line.
Instead, there were four. Here’s why:
Freeman stuck his shoulder out into Graham, and the KU guard did a good job selling the play. It took one of the five fouls from Freeman, and since Khadeem Lattin already had three fouls at that point, it meant one less possession where the Sooners would intentionally foul.
KU, though, didn’t seem so sure.
With the Jayhawks ahead by 1 after Azubuike’s final free throws and Young committing a turnover to give KU the ball back, Self pointed for Azubuike to go to the corner and then called a timeout.
KU came back out of the timeout and Self stuck with the alignment, opting to put Lagerald Vick in front of Azubuike to offer some protection in case someone tried to intentionally foul.
Kruger, though, was well prepared.
While Graham dribbled aimlessly, Kruger gestured for his players to sag off Vick and Azubuike, leaving nowhere for Graham — or anyone else — to drive.
Graham hoisted up a 3-pointer that missed. OU came back down the court and took the lead.
And on the other side
Since I began this story by talking about the defensive lapse by Graham, I think it’d only be fair to end on the play that preceded it.
After all, one play does not a game make.
With KU down 2 and Malik Newman with the ball, Young tried to go around an Azubuike screen, giving Newman an extra step as he drove toward the hoop.
The defense collapsed and Newman made the right play, dishing it to a wide open Mykhailiuik. The shot just didn't fall, and Newman couldn’t come up with the board.
Sometimes, that's the difference between a win and a loss.
NORMAN, Okla. — Bill Self has made it clear he won’t apologize for wins.
A one-point squeaker over Kansas State in Allen Fieldhouse? Not a chance. A down-to-the-wire finish over lowly Iowa State? That was just as big.
So after a game in which the KU coach admitted he didn’t make the best decision — to win an individual game, at least — it was interesting to hear his coaching counterpart pull back from a true defense off the method that won his team the game.
The first time OU coach Lon Kruger addressed his strategy to intentionally foul KU’s Udoka Azubuike, a poor free throw shooter, was in his opening statement. After speaking about how OU built a lead and KU subsequently claimed a double-digit advantage, Kruger described the second half by simply saying, 'We got back into that a little bit."
The first question was asked…
Question: "Lon, talk about the decision to foul Azubuike. That seemed to give you a lot of possessions in a row--"
Kruger: "Well, Kansas is the best at scoring late, you know, late game situations. So, it worked out fine, but more importantly, our guys made shots on the other end. The shot Christian made, Brady made and I thought Trae was fantastic all night long. So proud of those guys."
He was asked again…
Question: "Have you ever done that before in your career? The intentional fouling there on Azubuike."
Kruger: "That happens from time to time. Uh. Yeah."
And then a third time...
Question: "Lon, they were so good, Kansas was so good at closing out games over the last five games. Did you feel you had to throw some kind of wrinkle into the strategy with fouling Azubuike?"
Kruger: "Well Kansas is great in late game situations. So again — some big rebounds there as well and a couple stops as well. And again, made shots at the other end. So, yeah, fine line."
Kruger never addressed the strategy after that.
In fact, the only time Kruger even mentioned the 7-foot, 280-pound big man by name was in an unrelated answer.
“Azubuike is terrific inside,” Kruger said.
So then the question was posed to the player two seats to his left.
After talking about his competitiveness earlier in the press conference, and saying he came into the game expecting to win, Young was asked if he’d rather be in a position to guard Kansas straight up late in games or if he was OK with the strategy.
“I’d rather be up by 20,” Young joked. “I’m not that competitive where I’d want it to be a close game.
“No, I’m super competitive. I’m super competitive. But if it’s a close game, I mean, I want to compete to get a stop or get a bucket, so I’m super competitive.”
It isn’t often a player can score 27 points — a career-high at that — yet the most impressive part of his performance comes elsewhere.
Malik Newman’s outburst against Iowa State, an 83-78 Kansas win, was a welcome sign for KU fans. It was the same way for the redshirt sophomore, who knocked down 10 of his 21 field goal attempts in the win.
“It was a good one,” Newman said of his game. “Yeah, I can say (it was a breakout performance). Maybe.”
Some of Newman's struggles had been overstated. For instance, he had shot a respectable 17-for-35 in the four games leading up to the previous contest, against TCU, far from the numbers you'd expect going off some of the reactions on social media.
Other criticisms, however, were completely valid.
Newman shot 50 percent from 3 in his first six games, but saw his numbers tail off shortly after. In fact, after sustaining a head injury against Arizona State, Newman shot 4-for-19 from 3 over his next six contests. He was held without a made basket twice in that span.
The one thing he did consistently, though? Rebound.
Aside from the TCU game, arguably the worst of Newman’s collegiate career, the 6-foot-3 guard had snagged at least three rebounds in all but one of the Jayhawks' previous outings.
He grabbed four or more rebounds 11 times in KU's first 14 games and five or more rebounds seven times.
For reference, Udoka Azubuike, who is nine inches taller than Newman and outweighs him by nearly 100 pounds, has had the same number of games this year with two or fewer rebounds (two). In 16 games this season, Newman has actually grabbed more defensive rebounds than Azubuike four times, the same number of defensive rebounds twice and one or two fewer than Azubuike an additional five times.
“The reality of it is, Dok and Mitch (Lightfoot have) got to rebound better,” KU coach Bill Self said in a press conference leading up to the TCU game. “Dok gets four rebounds when there are 38 missed shots. That’s not good enough. He’s got to rebound the ball better.”
Said another way, KU has played 16 games this season. In five of them, Newman has posted an even or better defensive rebound rate than Azubuike — meaning he’s grabbed at least the same percentage of available defensive rebounds when he’s been on the court in about one-third of KU's games.
“The thing about it is, with Dok, there are so many more ways to impact the game (than scoring),” Self said after the win over Iowa State. “He’s got to rebound the ball. There were some possessions there in the first half where he never jumped. That doesn’t bode very well when you’re small and your team doesn’t rebound the ball very well.”
Still, if those numbers seem a little fishy to you, the last game provided plenty of visuals as to why they shape out that way.
No rebound illustrated KU’s woes in that area more than Azubuike’s board with 5:12 to play in the first half.
As a shot went up from the right wing, Newman put his body into Iowa State’s Hans Brase, who had a six-inch, 40-pound advantage.
Azubuike, with a decisive size advantage on his man — the 6-9, 225-pound Carmeron Lard — simply held his ground, reached up and grabbed the easy board.
Such a sequence was the polar opposite of the strategy employed by the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, when the team's big men would go out of their way to shield off defenders so that Russell Westbrook, the eventual NBA MVP, could snag easy boards and bring the ball up the court in transition.
But what happened on the KU play wasn’t some kind of a strategy. It was more representative of Azubuike's struggles.
Earlier in the season, Self called Azubuike out for his rebounding, adding that KU doesn’t have enough players rebounding the ball above the rim, which should be a strength of the 7-footer.
If there’s one player who can — and does — rebound above the rim, though, it’s definitely Newman.
One of Newman’s more emphatic rebounds on Tuesday came with just under seven minutes to play in the first half.
After an Iowa State 3-point attempt, Azubuike was too far out of position to get a body on Solomon Young. Devonte’ Graham came off his man to knock Young back just a touch, but it would’ve been an easy Iowa State offensive rebound if not for Newman swooping in and collecting the ball over two big men.
“I just wanted to try to get in there and rebound,” said Newman. “I notice that we’ve been struggling this season with rebounding, so I wanted to get in there and help the big fella’.”
Newman continued to fight for boards into the second half, even as he started to light up the scoresheet.
With just over 16 minutes to play, Lindell Wigginton took a shot from the right side of the key. Azubuike got back toward the hoop, but again just stood around rather than trying to put a body on his man, who ran back into the paint.
Newman, the only KU player to box out on the play, was shoved in the back, but still came up with the rebound.
“He played great,” Graham said. “He was just active. That’s what coach has been asking of him.”
The final highlight rebound of Newman’s day was far more in the Oklahoma City-style.
Five minutes after Newman’s leaping snag, he stood at the top of the key while Lard took a jumper late in the shot clock. Newman ran back toward the hoop and grabbed an athletic, albeit easy, rebound, since Marcus Garrett did his job boxing out Brase.
This time, things came together perfectly.
Newman sprinted down the court to the right wing. He took a step-back 3, perhaps an ill-advised shot given his shooting woes entering the game, but he shot it with plenty of confidence and it fell through the net.
All in all, Newman snagged eight defensive boards, five of which came in the second half. Of those five, the Jayhawks scored on four of the following offensive possessions.
Newman's eight rebounds tied for the team lead against Iowa State and came up one short of a career-best total he notched in a win over Kentucky earlier this season. Yet he was hesitant to declare himself fully back based off just one performance.
“At the end of the day, you just have to keep grinding,” Newman said, “get yourself out of that hole.”