Jayhawks need to get Udoka Azubuike more involved in rematch with Bears
There are many things No. 3 Kansas can do differently in Saturday’s rematch with No. 1 Baylor, but one small adjustment might be pivotal in avenging its lone Big 12 loss. Well, small might not be the best way to describe it.
Finding ways to make sure 7-foot, 255-pound center Udoka Azubuike is more effective on the offensive end in Waco, Texas, will be essential to KU’s chances of victory. Azubuike was limited to just 6 points on as many shot attempts during a 67-55 loss in Allen Fieldhouse on Jan. 11.
“The post game,” Azubuike replied when asked about ways the Jayhawks (23-3, 12-1 Big 12) can be better in their second meeting with the Bears. “They did a good job of denying me the ball. They got really good guys; they controlled the tempo of the game.”
Baylor, which recently set the Big 12 record for longest win streak with 23 consecutive victories, came up with an interesting game plan to slow down Azubuike in the first battle.
The Bears (24-1, 13-0 Big 12) fronted Azubuike in the post and then kept a help-side defender nearby. The help defender discouraged KU guards from attempting to feed the post. When the ball did go inside, the defender was there to provide help defense and fluster the big man.
In 32 minutes of action, Azubuike went 3 of 6 from the floor. Azubuike has only had two other games this season where he has finished with fewer points, though he wasn’t on the floor as much in either of those contests.
“Just movement, moving him a little bit more,” sophomore point guard Devon Dotson said on ways Kansas can get Azubuike more involved. “Just seeing different little sets to free him up a little bit and get him some more touches down low.”
Now, the Bears haven’t lost since Nov. 8 for a reason. Baylor has been an elite defensive team all year, ranking third in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom. For comparison, Kansas ranks second in that category.
But the Jayhawks, and their talented senior center, are certainly capable of playing better on the offensive end. Since that loss, KU has won all of its 11 games to set the stage for a potential league-determining battle with Baylor.
Over that span, Azubuike has scored in double figures in all but three outings while averaging 13 points per game. He’s attempting an average of 8.1 shots per game since then, which includes double-digit attempts in four different contests.
In his collegiate career, Kansas is 27-1 (11-0 this season) when Azubuike scores at least 15 points.
But the Jayhawks also know they have to do things differently in their rematch with the Bears. Azubuike said Kansas is implementing sets to help make post-entry passes easier for guards.
“If you notice the last game, I couldn’t set the screen because they were downing the ball real hard,” Azubuike said. “We have to do a better job of setting the screen in the middle, and the post passes have to be from the middle.”
Dotson, Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun have also improved at getting the ball inside over the last month. Part of that comes from there being more space, with Kansas switching to a four-guard lineup since it last faced Baylor.
It remains to be seen whether or not it all makes a difference for Azubuike this weekend. But if it does allow him to have more success, there is a very good chance it could lead to a better result for the Jayhawks.
A look at Udoka Azubuike’s offensive effectiveness since Baylor loss
Azubuike points | FGM-FGA | Team points in the paint +/-
at Oklahoma: 16 points | 7-10 FGs | KU +22
at Texas: 17 points | 7-9 FGs | KU +10
Kansas State: 10 points | 4-5 FGs | +18
Tennessee: 18 points | 6-7 FGs | +2
at Oklahoma State: 6 points | 3-4 FGs | -8
Texas Tech: 5 points | 1-5 FGs | +10
Texas: 17 points | 8-10 FGs | +18
at TCU: 20 points | 10-14 FGs | +10
at West Virginia: 6 points | 3-6 FGs | +10
Oklahoma: 15 points | 6-12 FGs | +10
Iowa State: 13 points | 5-7 FGs | +18