Lubbock, Texas — Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 66-62 win over Texas Tech on Saturday.
• The Jayhawks missed a lot of shots in the first half (39% shooting), but still headed to halftime up 32-24 versus the Red Raiders.
Points in the paint made that possible, as KU outscored Tech, 14-6, in the first 20 minutes.
That helped offset KU’s 3-point shooting, with the No. 1 team in the country going just 3-for-12 in the first half.
• Although the Jayhawks turned it over 7 times in the first half, Tech only scored 2 points off those miscues.
• A slow offensive start to the second half (2-for-11 shooting, 0-for-2 3-pointers, six minutes in) kept Tech right in the thick of it with KU.
• KU shot 43% in the second half and on the day outscored Tech, 38-16, in the paint. The Jayhawks shot 1-for-5 on second half 3-pointers.
• KU’s guards occasionally had trouble cutting off the long strides of Terrence Shannon Jr., when the 6-foot-6 freshman sought out driving lanes, but the visitors mostly proved effective at keeping Red Raiders out of the paint.
• The Jayhawks ran into even more trouble defending the arc. The Red Raiders opened 4-for-9 from 3-point range 12 minutes in, before KU only allowed 3 more attempts (all misses) before intermission.
• As has been on the case on the road all season long, it was KU’s defense that made a victory possible. Even without a gaudy amount of steals and blocks, the Jayhawks just made it difficult for the Red Raiders to score — a must in a hostile environment versus a well-coached team.
• Tech, after shooting 30.3% from the field in the first 20 minutes, however, came out guns blazing in the second half. Starting 4-for-5 from the floor, Tech, after trailing by as many as 8, tied the game at 37.
• The Red Raiders shot 37% on the day and went 8-for-26 on 3-pointers.
• Udoka Azubuike drew tons of attention from Tech defenders whenever KU could get him the ball in the paint, but the senior center mostly handled those situations well, even after a couple of potentially discouraging turnovers early on.
Azubuike scored 8 of his 15 points in the first half, and executed some nice passes out of the post to open shooters.
The big man played his final regular season game for KU, posted another double-double, with 11 rebounds.
• Devon Dotson came out attacking, scoring two of KU’s first four baskets off dribble attacks that got him layups.
In the midst of a terrific atmosphere and a tight game early on, Dotson’s pick and roll with Azubuike for a dunk, when the big man already had a couple turnovers in the paint, felt like an important moment for the offense.
Even better for the Jayhawks’ chances, Dotson often set up teammates for good looks at Tech, too, with 4 assists on KU’s first 10 field goals.
A surefire first-team All-Big 12 guard, Dotson didn’t let a stepback air-balled 3-pointer to open the second half ruin his day. The sophomore point guard was driving to finish at the rim over length a minute later.
Dotson on a 6-for-15 shooting day, ultimately was productive, putting up 17 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, while struggling from time to time with turnovers (5).
• Marcus Garrett, always the glue guy, provided KU with stellar defense, great effort on the glass and leadership.
His perfect entry pass into Azubuike with 2-plus minutes left gave KU a crucial basket in crunch time. In the final minute, he drove in for a clutch layup that put KU up 4.
A junior guard, Garrett finished with 9 points,, 2 assists and 9 rebounds.
• Isaiah Moss hit his first 3-pointer with 6:38 left in the first half. And though he missed his next 2 attempts in the half, KU functioned well with him on the floor, because Tech defenders have to respect him as a long-range threat.
Moss put up 3 points and went 1-for-5 from deep
• Ochai Agbaji knocked down a right corner 3-pointer early on, and every time that someone other than Moss or Christian Braun connects from downtown, that’s a good sign for the Jayhawks’ offensive potential in the weeks ahead. However, his next three 3-point tries misfired.
What helped Agbaji stand out, though, was his willingness to keep making effort plays when his shots weren’t falling. His hustle in transition to follow a Dotson miss on a toughly contested layup paid off, as Agbaji fushed a follow jam.
He also hit a timely 3-pointer under the 10-minute mark of the second half, with the Red Raiders surging and the crowd giving them even more life.
The sophomore guard posted 12 points and 6 rebounds in the regular season finale.
• David McCormak harnessed his energy well in the first half when he came in to give Azubuike a breather. The backup big asserted himself to look for shots and hit the offensive glass. Even though he needs to finish some of the looks he got inside as a result of his approach, he gave KU more positives than negatives.
McCormack got on the floor to secure a key defensive rebound in the second half, with a little more than 7 minutes to go, leading to a transition layup for Dotson.
KU’s backup big provided 5 points and 6 rebounds.
• Braun delivered what was a rare basket for KU early on in the first half. Spotting up in the left corner, he attacked a closeout off the bounce to seek out a layup, and he drew a foul for an old-fashioned 3-point play.
The freshman guard gave KU 5 points and 4 rebounds, and finished a must-have fast-break layup — set up by his steal — smoothly with less than 1:30 left.
• Tech’s reserves were a bit more impactful, overall, than KU’s on a heated March afternoon, and Tech prevailed in bench points, 16-10.
With No. 1-ranked Kansas playing so well and so many pages of documents to scour in KU’s response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, it’s easy to forget that the Jayhawks are about to add another big man to their lineup.
With one game left in the regular season, Silvio De Sousa is officially back. His 12-game suspension ended, coincidently, as the Jayhawks wrapped up at least a share of the Big 12 title without him.
So now, a week into March, for the first time since Jan. 21, when De Sousa made some heat-of-the-moment errors in judgment during a fracas with Kansas State that he now regrets, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward returns to the lineup versus Texas Tech.
Just in time to help KU try and win the 2020 league title outright. What a story, right? Well, not really.
It would have felt crazy to say, write, hear or read before the season began, but the fact is the Jayhawks don’t even really need De Sousa to achieve that goal or the larger ones they still have in front of them.
Even before De Sousa threw punches at K-State players and hoisted a stool above his head during a rivalry game skirmish, actions he would later describe as “unacceptable behavior” and a “poor representation” of his team and his “own character,” the backup big man’s impact for KU was sporadic.
Having De Sousa back in uniform will become a luxury for the Jayhawks (27-3 overall, 16-1 Big 12). In his six appearances in league games in January, before his suspension, he only played 6.2 minutes on average — and that was when KU coach Bill Self still used two-big lineups at times.
So what does De Sousa’s role look like now, with the Jayhawks playing one big with four guards almost exclusively? Even Self admitted he doesn’t know the exact answer.
“I know he's going to travel with us. And he'll suit up. I don't know — that doesn’t mean he'll play or play much or anything,” Self said.
Basically, De Sousa has become an insurance policy and a No. 3 center. If anything were to occur that would lead Self to have both Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack on the bench — for instance, they both have two or more fouls before halftime — then the post spot goes to De Sousa.
“We've been kind of set in how we've done things and everything,” Self said of his team’s rotation, after the Jayhawks won their 15th game in a row. “And David's played really well, so I don't see Silvio's eligibility impacting David's minutes. So I don't know what that’ll look like.”
When many people think about De Sousa’s potential, his role in KU’s run to the 2018 Final Four first comes to mind. A freshman who didn’t even join the lineup until January of that year, the reserve from Angola gave the Jayhawks 4.8 points and 5.4 rebounds off the bench during the NCAA Tournament. As the only backup big for Azubuike versus Duke in the Elite Eight, De Sousa came through with 4 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes on a day that Azubuike fouled out.
Before he got the chance to continue his promising trajectory, De Sousa ultimately lost his entire sophomore season, as the NCAA ruled him ineligible in the wake of a federal investigation into corruption in college basketball. KU remains in hot water as the result of that investigation and the federal trial that followed it. The NCAA alleges, among other violations, that De Sousa’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne, received $2,500 from an agent in an effort to get De Sousa enrolled at KU.
The university’s lengthy response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, made public Thursday, includes numerous references to the recruitment of De Sousa — his name is simply redacted from the published version of the document.
De Sousa’s return coinciding with the response makes the timing strange. And that’s actually appropriate, because his two-plus years at KU so far have involved bizarre twists and turns, including being reinstated by the NCAA for the 2019-20 season only to lose a chunk of it because of his involvement in the K-State fight.
“I do know he's paid a pretty heavy price,” Self said of the 12-game suspension. “It’s basically cost him the season. So we'll be excited to have him with us.”
As much as De Sousa has practiced with KU since getting to campus in late December of 2017, the on-again, off-again nature of his college career has stunted his development as a player. In-game reps are a crucial component of that growth. It doesn’t seem like he’ll get many of those in the weeks ahead either.
Perhaps De Sousa’s senior season at KU will be the one where he finally becomes a regular contributor. In the meantime, the Jayhawks have an emergency center who would start for many other college programs.
Grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 75-66 win over TCU on Wednesday at Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks assured themselves of at least a share of the 2020 Big 12 title.
• The Jayhawks scored their first 12 points in the paint to establish their interior dominance versus the visitors from Fort Worth, Texas. That trend would continue throughout and become a critical component of KU’s early March win.
KU controlled the paint, outscoring TCU, 46-16, inside, and shooting 53.7% overall from the field.
• KU wasn’t as successful from long range, however, going 3-for-12 on 3-pointers.
• The No. 1 team in the nation benefited from 14 offensive rebounds, which led to 19 second-chance points.
• KU’s biggest defensive issue came in the first half, when it could not stop TCU from burying 3-pointer after 3-pointer. The Frogs went 9-for-15 in the first 20 minutes.
The defense tightened up down the stretch, though, as KU held TCU to 4-for-14 shooting from long range in the second half.
• TCU turned the ball over 7 times in each half, and KU racked up 9 steals in all in the home finale.
• The Frogs only connected on 10 of their 28 shots in the second half. They hit 42% overall in the game.
• Udoka Azubuike was unstoppable as ever, sore ankle be damned.
The Jayhawks knew the first time they faced TCU the Frogs struggled to handle the 7-foot senior, so they counted on a repeat performance once they figured out Azubuike’s ankle wasn’t bothering him too much to limit his impact.
Azubuike put up a career-high 31 points in his final home game, and, oh yeah, also secured 14 rebounds and blocked 5 shots.
A spectacular finish to an incredible run for the center from Nigeria.
• Point guard Devon Dotson got rolling later in the first half, and often sped his way to baskets and the foul line. He hurt his lower left leg later in the second half, or he would have been even more productive than he was, with 18 points on 5-for-12 shooting, with 6 boards and 2 assists, plus 4 steals.
• Marcus Garrett again looked to be playing through pain (sore foot), but powered through it at points to make key plays.
His assist to Azubuike inside followed by a steal and layup of his own came at a critical juncture of the second half, as KU took control.
Garrett finished with 9 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals, even if his defense was a little below his high standards on a couple of occasions.
• Ochai Agbaji threw a couple of bad passes for turnovers but flashed his athleticism and finished with 8 points.
• Isaiah Moss only got 1 of his 7 3-point attempts to drop, but he played 37 minutes, and looked good setting others up a few times (3 assists), while contributing 5 points and 4 rebounds.
• Christian Braun played the majority of the bench minutes, with 20, and scored all of the bench’s points (4).
• When David McCormack and Tristan Enaruna were in the game, KU wasn’t quite as effective.
No. 1-ranked Kansas could play as many as 11 games between now and when college basketball’s national champion is crowned on April 6, in Indianapolis. And during the most pivotal and scrutinized portion of the season, the Jayhawks will have to at times get by without starting center Udoka Azubuike.
Whenever one of the best big men in the nation isn’t on the floor for KU, it will be up to Azubuike’s backup, David McCormack, to make sure his minutes result in a net positive outcome.
A sophomore who is averaging just 13.5 minutes a game in Big 12 play, McCormack won’t be asked to do anything unreasonable in the weeks ahead. But sensible basketball minds will agree that he should be more than serviceable if Azubuike is hurt, in foul trouble or needs a breather.
At 6-foot-10 and 265 pounds, McCormack is a presence inside, even though he doesn’t rebound, block shots or influence the outcome of opponents’ attempts in the paint as successfully as Azubuike does. But he proved at Kansas State this past Saturday he can impact the game in a supportive way, even in crunch time.
When the Jayhawks (26-3 overall, 15-1 Big 12) played the final six-plus minutes in Manhattan without Azubuike, because of his ailing ankle, McCormack checked in with his team up two, and in the 5:58 that followed, KU outscored K-State, 11-9.
In that span, McCormack accounted for a turnover, a steal, an assist on Christian Braun’s late-game 3-pointer, a foul, a missed jumper, a successful shot attempt and another foul.
Due to Azubuike’s ankle issue, McCormack played 20 minutes in total — his most since he was still in the starting lineup in January. The reserve center contributed nine points and four rebounds, went 2-for-7 from the floor and 5-for-6 at the foul line.
Bill Self thought KU played well down the stretch, with McCormack in for Azubuike.
“He made a big shot. He took a silly one and made a big shot,” Self clarified. “And then the one that he made at the end of the (shot) clock got waved off. I thought he did fine. I don’t think we win the game without any of our seven today that played a lot of minutes, but certainly David was pretty clutch down the stretch.”
One knock against McCormack is that so many of his shot attempts are mid-range jumpers and long 2-pointers. Earlier in the season, when KU regularly played McCormack and Azubuike at the same time, those attempts were a little more forgivable, because they relatively spaced the floor — or at least made the interior somewhat less crowded for driving guards.
But now that McCormack spends almost all of his minutes as KU’s only big on the court — and If Azubuike’s injured ankle keeps him out of KU’s home finale versus TCU it will be all McCormack all the time — he would be better suited taking his shots inside. Per BartTorvik.com, in his 26 games versus Division 1 opponents this season, McCormack is 18-for-20 (90%) on dunks, 37-for-48 (77.1%) on shots at the rim and 38-for-89 (42.7%) on other 2-pointers.
Plus, if he spends more time posting up and quickly attacking, he’s more likely to get to the foul line, where he’s quietly one of KU’s best shooters (36-for-44, 81.8%).
“I don’t know if you guys know this — that’s the first free throw he’s missed in conference play this year,” Self remarked of the big man’s lone misfire at the charity stripe versus K-State.
McCormack, who is converting 54.1% of his attempts this season and making 47.9% in Big 12 contests, isn’t shy about taking shots in his limited minutes. If he can reprogram his offensive approach by taking those shots inside, he could even become a more effective player just in time for March Madness.
Self had few critiques, though, of McCormack’s game following KU’s win at K-State.
“I thought his ball screen defense was OK. I thought he rebounded OK. But I don’t know,” Self replied, when asked if there were things McCormack could do to be more effective during his minutes. “He’s obviously a good shooter from 15 and in, so he needs to shoot the ball. But I would say just keep doing what he’s doing. He’s kind of settled into his role and is doing it pretty well.”
Manhattan — Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 62-58 win over Kansas State on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum.
• The Wildcats, despite their struggles this season, are known for their defense — specifically their ability to disrupt possessions and create turnovers. The Jayhawks got an early reminder of that Saturday afternoon, with 3 turnovers less than 3 minutes in.
Although KU wouldn’t continue coughing up the ball at that rate, every time the Jayhawks did it gave K-State’s struggling offense some life. The Wildcats scored 12 points off KU’s 11 first-half turnovers.
• When the Jayhawks took care of the ball, they were scoring in the first half. They shot 56% from the floor and 3-for-5 on 3-pointers. Plus, the visitors went 14-for-18 at the foul line in a physical game.
• KU only scored 10 points in the paint — where the No. 1 team in the nation usually thrives — in the first half. That trend wouldn’t hold up so severely for the second half, as the Jayhawks had 8 points inside less than 7 minutes in. They finished with 26 points overall in the paint to K-State’s 18.
• The Jayhawks’ offense struggled more than usual after halftime. With 11:24 left, KU was just 4-for-14 from the field and 0-for-6 on 3-pointers. Their lack of 3-point shooting kept K-State in the game. KU went 1-for-10 from deep in the final 20 minutes.
• KU shot 33% from the floor in the second half, while turning it over 5 times.
• With K-State’s offensive struggles this season, maybe we should’ve anticipated a rough offensive start versus Kansas.
KU smothered the Wildcats in the opening minutes, after Cartier Diarra opened the day with a successful 3-pointer. It would be 7-plus minutes before K-State hit another shot from the floor. The Wildcats missed 9 shot attempts in a row and turned the ball over twice while falling behind, 14-5.
• In a low-scoring first half, though, KU’s defensive mistakes most often resulted in the Wildcats finding some open looks at 3-pointers. Those shots kept the crowd and the Wildcats from giving up on the idea of an upset.
The Wildcats kept it interesting in the first half with the help of 6-for-12 success from 3-point range.
• K-State, which spent much of the second half leading, went 2-for-13 on 3-pointers after halftime and shot 35% overall during the deciding half.
• KU’s massive center, Udoka Azubuike had scored 4 of his team’s 5 points when he rolled his right ankle inside, while coming down on his attempt to up-and-under his way to a bucket.
That came 4:15 into the Sunflower Showdown, and Azubuike walked slowly back to the bench under his own power, after taking some time to get up from the floor, as trainers came out to check him out.
After going back to the locker room, Azubuike returned to the floor with 9:01 left in the first half and KU up, 19-12.
Azubuike often wasn’t as engaged and active as usual while dealing with the pain in his ankle. That led to Azubuike not defending up to his standards at times.
The senior 7-footer finished with 6 points and 9 rebounds in 20 minutes.
• Devon Dotson’s speed proved even too much for K-State’s perimeter defenders to manage much of the time, with his attacks leading to layups and drawn fouls.
Dotson carried KU’s scoring throughout the first half as a result, scoring 15 as the Jayhawks took a slim 34-34 lead into halftime.
The surefire All-Big 12 first-teamer kept right on attacking when openings appeared in the second half, making his bursts to the rim look effortless.
Dotson put up 25 points and 1 assist.
• Ochai Agbaji got off to a rough start in the road rivalry game, responsible for a turnover on each of KU’s first two possessions. The miscues resulted in a rare early trip to the bench for the sophomore.
Agbaji returned to the lineup a few minutes later. After settling back in, he delivered KU’s first 3-pointer of the game off a drive and dish to the left corner from Dotson.
HIs crash of the offensive glass and put-back early in the second half, with KU trailing, helped the Jayhawks from lingering even longer in a rut.
Agbaji gave KU 5 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
• Marcus Garrett turned the ball over 3 times and didn’t attempt an official shot from the floor in the first half, but his presence remained a must for KU, between his defense and his ability to complement Dotson as a ball-handler.
HIs first basket of the day, though, came in the final 2 minutes, and was a tough one inside in a two-possession game.
Garrett had 3 points, 3 assists and 4 rebounds.
• Isaiah Moss found it hard to get shot attempts against K-State. The senior guard, who is KU’s best 3-point shooter, had an 0-for-0 first half at Bramlage Coliseum, in 18 minute of action. To his credit, he still contributed offensively, going 4-for-4 at the foul line.
He finally took advantage of an opening immediately in the second half, but misfired on a 3-pointer from the right wing. He finally got himself a bucket by attacking in transition and finishing strong with KU still trailing 6-plus minutes into the second half.
Moss contributed 8 points and went 0-for-4 from 3-point land.
• KU would need David McCormack more than expected, with Azubuike’s ankle injury leading to more minutes.
McCormack played 10 minutes in the first half, and some defensive lapses hurt KU from time to time. He scored 5 of his 9 points before halftime and grabbed 3 of his 4 boards in that span.
• Christian Braun didn’t play enough to be a huge factor in the first half, but drained his lone 3-point attempt.
Braun, who scored 6 points, also put an end to KU’s cold streak from deep in the second half, burying an open look from the left wing that made KU’s lead 53-48 with 4:52 left.
• KU’s bench outscored K-State’s, 15-3.
College basketball awards season isn’t too far away now, and when it arrives, Kansas head coach Bill Self knows what he would be looking for in a Big 12 Player of the Year.
Self didn’t make a case Thursday during his weekly press conference for either of his team’s legit contenders, Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson, but rather shared his thoughts on the criteria he would use in selecting a conference’s top performer.
It was during this mental exercise that Self explained why he doesn’t first look to statistics when considering candidates.
“In general terms, I think winning is obviously very important,” Self replied, when asked how to best gauge such awards. “I believe sometimes putting up numbers is overrated a little bit if you have a lot of balance on your team.”
Self knows that from firsthand experience, thanks to one All-Big 12 first team from a decade ago that looks laughable in retrospect.
“I remember when we won the national championship in ’07-’08, we had three guys that should’ve been on first team. And zero made it in the media poll,” Self recalled, “because our leading scorer averaged 13.”
Indeed, the Associated Press All-Big 12 first team in 2008 included not a single Jayhawk. No Darrell Arthur. No Brandon Rush (the aforementioned leading scorer). No Mario Chalmers. All landed on the second team, presumably because KU was so balanced that they split the vote. So the AP first team was comprised of Kansas State’s Michael Beasley, Texas’ D.J. Augustin, Baylor’s Curtis Jerrells, Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin and Nebraska’s Aleks Maric.
While one could view this stroll down KU basketball memory lane as a lesson that voters should include Azubuike, Dotson and Marcus Garrett on this year’s All-Big 12 first team ballots, Self also pointed out that Baylor has “such good balance” this season, that the Bears’ individual numbers might go under-appreciated by some when it’s time to dole out postseason accolades.
“They’re not going to have a guy with the elite numbers as far as scoring output,” Self said of BU, led by Jared Butler’s 15.7 points per game and MaCio Teague’s 14.1.
When Self looks to identify the best players around, the hall of fame coach thinks about each man’s value to the team, and what that team would look like without a given player.
“To me those are all things that are somewhat intangibles,” Self said, “but I think they all would play a huge role in who would be a player of the year in every conference.”
Few would be surprised to see either Azubuike or Dotson take home the 2020 Big 12 Player of the Year. And Garrett has been so crucial to KU’s success this season that some would argue the junior guard and defensive savant is actually KU’s most valuable player.
Even Self admitted it can be difficult from week to week to identify which of KU’s three most important players is the team’s MVP. Not that he cares to choose one.
“We’ve had a pretty decent year up until this point, and we’ve had three guys play particularly well,” Self said of his No. 1-ranked Jayhawks. “But I think it will probably distinguish itself over the next three games, because guys have got to play in the biggest games, and these three are obviously pivotal if we’re going to have a chance to win the league.”
Regardless of how the awards and all-this-or-that teams shake out, KU has three team-first players in Azubuike, Dotson and Garrett, who are poised to take the Jayhawks on a deep run through the NCAA Tournament.
A supporting starter for the No. 1-ranked team in the country, Ochai Agbaji often blends in more than he stands out.
That doesn’t mean his head coach, Bill Self, wants Agbaji playing passively on offense. With the attention Kansas opponents must give to the Jayhawks’ inside-outside duo of Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson, opportunities for Agbaji often materialize. And when they do, KU needs the agreeable Agbaji taking advantage.
The 6-foot-5 sophomore guard’s defense, athleticism and energy keep Agbaji on the court for Kansas (25-3 overall, 14-1 Big 12). That’s why he played 39 minutes in the Jayhawks’ vital win at Baylor, despite going scoreless for the first time this season and just the third time in his 44-game college career.
“I was definitely happy for my teammates, happy for the outcome of the game,” Agbaji said of his zero points in a crucial victory. “Our main goal was just go down there and win, no matter what. Any way we can do it. So, I mean, if it takes me not even scoring and us getting the ‘W,’ then I'll have that every single day.”
Even so, with just a handful of games left in the regular season, Monday night’s matchup with Oklahoma State was no time for Agbaji to fade into the background, on the heels of an 0-for-5 outing at Baylor.
So Self was pleased to see Agbaji produce 15 points, while going 5-for-9 from the field and 2-for-6 on 3-pointers versus the Cowboys.
“A lot better,” Self said of Agbaji’s offensive approach in an 83-58 KU win. “Aggressive. Shot a couple balls right off the bat.”
It all began for Agbaji with an assist from the Jayhawks’ dominating big man, Azubuike. Dotson had just thrown KU’s senior center an entry pass into the paint, and as Azubuike gathered inside, OSU took for an ultra-aggressive approach, sending four defenders at the 7-footer. Azubuike reacted by spotting Agbaji in the nearby left corner, and the sophomore side-stepped into a successful 3-pointer for KU’s first basket of the night.
That quick start had Agbaji confident enough to catch and fire quickly off a defensive stop on KU’s next possession. And although that 3 misfired, it didn’t put an end to his self-assured offensive mindset — which is exactly the attitude his head coach wants Agbaji to have.
He showed briefly he can do that as a playmaker, as well. At an early juncture of the first half, Agbaji dribbled hard toward the paint from the left wing, forcing the OSU defense to react. His decisive attack off the bounce created the opening Isaiah Moss needed to drain a wide-open 3-pointer and gave Agbaji an assist.
His most eye-popping moment, though, came above the rim. With a David McCormack block on defense serving as the catalyst for a fast break, Agbaji sprinted down the left side of the floor. His instincts and hustle led him to the rim, as Dotson served up a lob that Agbaji slammed.
Late in the first half, Agbaji again looked authoritative with the ball in his hands, driving right at OSU’s Lindy Waters III on a poor closeout, drawing a foul that led to two made free throws.
Even though Agbaji missed two well contested 3-pointers in the final seconds of the first half, with the clock influencing his decision to take those shots when he wouldn’t have to force them in most situations, he came right back out in the second half ready to help put OSU away.
A few minutes removed from the halftime break, Agbaji found a larger defender, Cameron McGriff, checking him on the perimeter. So Agbaji went into attack mode, crossing over the 6-foot-7 forward and finishing over McGriff with a runner off the glass while drawing a foul for a 3-point play.
Just more than a minute later, Agbaji caught a pass on the right wing with eight seconds left on the shot clock. Azubuike came up to set a screen for him and Agbaji used that opportunity to dribble into a 3-pointer that put KU up by 13 points.
Agbaji’s final points of his fifth double-digit scoring game in Big 12 play this season, once again, were the result of his firm response to a defensive opening.
When OSU opted to trap Marcus Garrett near mid-court, it left three defenders to cover four Jayhawks and a lot of space for Agbaji to operate once Garrett threw him a pass out on the right side. Agbaji wasted no time in determining a plan of action and dribbled into a rhythm jumper, which he buried from just behind the right elbow.
Self appreciated that Agbaji repeatedly sought out shots for himself.
“I don’t know football very well, but it seems like they’re playing nine in the box or whatever they call it,” Self said of defenses the Jayhawks have faced. “And it seems like to me you’ve got to throw long every now and then, even if it’s incomplete just to stretch the defense. That’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to shoot the ball to stretch the defense. When we do that, it opens up a lot more driving area and lanes.”
KU’s best and most used lineup versus OSU had Agbaji out on the court with Dotson, Azubuike, Garrett and Moss — KU’s starting five for the past four games. That unit played 15:09 versus OSU and outscored the Cowboys, 34-18.
What makes Agbaji (averaging 10.1 points a game this season, on 43% shooting and 34.1% 3-point accuracy) such a good fit as a third or fourth scoring option is KU doesn’t have to run actions for him for Agbaji to produce. Just as he showed versus OSU, reading and reacting can help him accumulate points effectively. Having an assertive approach in those moments brings out the best in Agbaji.
The Jayhawks don’t always need points from Agbaji, but his teammates and coaches do want him bringing an opportunistic attitude on offense.
“Defensively, he's been pretty solid and good, basically all year long,” Self said. “But tonight he was different. He was different offensively. Much more confident.”
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 83-58 win over Oklahoma State on Big Monday at Allen Fieldhouse.
• The Jayhawks weren’t always knocking down the 3-pointers the Cowboys invited them to take. But the offense didn’t ultimately suffer for KU as a result.
After a low-percentage first half of shooting (34.4% from the field), the Jayhawks finally got rolling a few minutes into the second half.
They connected on nine shots in a row to bury OSU, with four of their baskets in that stretch coming at the rim.
• KU finished 44% from the field in the easy home victory. The Jayhawks went 10-for-28 on 3-pointers and scored 28 points in the paint.
• The Cowboys spent much of the loss shooting in the low 30s, percentage wise.
Their 13 turnovers didn’t help, either, on a night OSU shot 38% from the floor. The Cowboys had to find and hit 3-pointers to stand a chance, but KU held them to 3-for-12.
• KU star senior center Udoka Azubuike looked ready for the attention OSU would give him from the opening moments of the rout.
Four OSU defenders zeroed in on the KU big man on an early touch and Azubuike wisely and quickly kicked the ball out to Ochai Agbaji for a wide-open 3-pointer, which the sophomore guard drained.
Azubuike wouldn’t be denied his chances to score, though, as he helped KU demolish OSU inside, all while he kept giving the Jayhawks high-level rim protection, too.
The Jayhawks’ 7-footer left the latest win with 19 points, 16 rebounds 3 blocked shots and a 7-for-8 night at the free throw line.
• Devon Dotson only shot 3-for-12 in the win. The sophomore point guard helped make up for that with his defense, as well as 4 assists and 5 boards on his 11-point night.
• Isaiah Moss quickly set his feet for his second shot attempt of the evening, a great look at the hoop from the top of the key, and the grad transfer knocked it down with the OSU defense collapsing on the interior any time KU got the ball inside. He looked like the perfect solution to OSU’s defensive strategy.
Moss finished 3-for-6 on 3-pointers. Not exactly a game-changer, but the exact kind of solid production KU need from him.
• Ochai Agbaji bounced back nicely from a scoreless game at Baylor, putting up 15 against OSU, to go with his typical defensive effort.
• Marcus Garrett was the best creator and distributor among KU’s guards, dishing 7 assists.
His defense, as always, made him a huge bonus for the Jayhawks’ lineups, too, on a night Garrett produced 5 points and 3 rebounds.
• David McCormack early on looked explosive on an offensive rebound and follow jam, hranessing his energy for good.
McCormack wasn’t done there, either, with the blowout allowing him to get plenty of quality minutes. The sophomore backup big came away with 10 points and 4 rebounds, plus 1 block.
• Christian Braun looked confident with the ball in his hands again, and was a shooter that gave OSU trouble, as he went 3-for-4 from deep.
• The KU subs outscored OSU’s, 24-13.
With the momentous rematch between the Big 12’s two dominant teams drawing nearer by the hour, it’s important to remember that Kansas should be bringing a much different look into Round 2 with Baylor.
It was during the two teams’ first meeting on Jan. 11 that Devon Dotson suffered a hip pointer late in the first half. KU’s starting point guard and leading scorer would only play eight minutes in the second half due to the pain and clearly wasn’t himself during the 67-55 Baylor win at Allen Fieldhouse. The injury would force Dotson to miss KU’s next game, at Oklahoma three days later.
To say that Dotson’s injury altered the trajectory of the first matchup between the Jayhawks and Bears would be inaccurate. Baylor led by as many as 17 points in the first half, before Dotson got hurt, and BU took a 12-point lead into the locker room at halftime.
The hip injury did, however, keep the Jayhawks from being able to run out their best lineups as often as Bill Self would have liked against the Bears.
In recent weeks, as the Jayhawks (23-3 overall, 12-1 Big 12) have rattled off 11 consecutive wins since losing to Baylor (24-1, 13-0), Self has relied on some combination of four guards and 7-footer Udoka Azubuike to wear down lesser opponents on both ends of the court. And the best lineups, of course, always feature Dotson, KU’s fastest guard and leading scorer (17.8 points per game in Big 12 contests).
Because Dotson’s availability was altered, the Bears only saw a little more than 11 minutes of the very best units KU can put on the floor.
As Self has almost completely gone away from the two-big lineups that he even used as a starting five earlier in the season, the best combinations game in and game out have included Dotson, Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, Azubuike and either Isaiah Moss or Christian Braun.
Listen here to our latest KU Sports Hour podcast, breaking down the KU-Baylor battle:
Against Baylor, KU’s lineup of Garrett, Dotson, Moss, Agbaji and Azubuike played 8:55, outscoring the Bears, 17-14, in that time. Swap in Braun for Moss and the 1B lineup spent 2:15 on the floor, with BU holding a 7-4 advantage.
Look at those same lineups in more recent KU games and you’ll see that the Jayhawks typically get to play longer with their most effective groups than the 11:10 they had versus Baylor.
In their past five outings, the Jayhawks used their two best lineups 18:02 against Texas, 16:05 at TCU, 22:02 at West Virginia, 22:19 against Oklahoma and 14:02 versus Iowa State.
Sometimes it’s the Moss lineup that works better and other days the one with Braun does the trick. But Self always has time to figure out which one will be best for a given opponent in the flow of each game.
When its two best lineups were on the court, KU outscored Texas by 10, TCU by 9, WVU by 19, OU by 26 and ISU by 10.
Baylor is obviously better than every other Big 12 opponent on KU’s schedule. The Bears’ defense, led by Davion Mitchell, Freddie Gillespie and Mark Vital, has proven fierce in the half court, regardless of the level of competition. Much like KU, Baylor’s defense (No. 3 in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom.com) has made it elite this season, as the Bears take a Big 12-record 23-game winning streak into Saturday’s rematch in Waco, Texas.
Dotson and Garrett will have to find the driving lanes that seem so impassable against Baylor’s perimeter defense in order for the Jayhawks to find success offensively. And every KU guard will have to be ready to knock down 3-pointers off whatever penetration and Azubuike post touches KU can muster.
With a healthy Dotson in the mix for the rematch, the Jayhawks should at least get more cracks at solving the Bears.
And they won’t be wasting any time with lineups that don’t function at all.
KU started Azubuike and David McCormack earlier in the season. That two-big look didn’t do the Jayhawks any good against Baylor.
The starting lineup of Garrett, Dotson, Agbaji, McCormack and Azubuike played two stretches against Baylor, totaling 5:20. The Jayhawks were outscored, 13-3, a virtual disaster offensively and a bad matchup defensively versus the Bears.
On Saturday, Baylor won’t see that KU lineup, but the Bears should get plenty of chances to try and prove they can stop the Jayhawks when they’re at their best.
KU’s most effective lineups
Garrett, Dotson, Moss, Agbaji, Azubuike
• vs. Baylor on Jan. 11: 8:55, outscored BU, 17-14
• vs. Texas on Feb. 4: 10:55, tied UT, 17-17
• at TCU on Feb. 8: 9:40, outscored TCU, 18-9
• at West Virginia on Feb. 13: 16:12, outscored WVU, 29-10
• vs. Oklahoma on Feb. 15: 22:19, outscored OU, 54-28
• vs. Iowa State on Feb. 18: 10:02, outscored ISU, 24-21
Garrett, Dotson, Braun, Agbaji, Azubuike
• vs. Baylor on Jan. 11: 2:15, got outscored by BU, 7-4
• vs. Texas on Feb. 4: 7:07, outscored UT, 18-8
• at TCU on Feb. 8: 6:25, tied TCU, 6-6
• at West Virginia on Feb. 13: 5:50, tied WVU, 10-10
• vs. Oklahoma on Feb. 15: did not play
• vs. Iowa State on Feb. 18: 4:00, outscored ISU, 15-7
Someone alert Dikembe Mutombo. Finger wagging isn’t just for blocked shots anymore.
At least not in the inventive and adaptive mind of Kansas center Udoka Azubuike.
The Jayhawks’ 7-footer went back Monday night, early in the second half versus Iowa State, to what has become his go-to celebration this season, waving his right index finger toward no one in particular.
Unlike past instances, though, the gesture didn’t follow one of Azubuike’s rim-protecting obliterations of an opponent’s shot.
The big center who usually gets his touches in the post or a few feet from the basket, caught the ball on the blue feathers of Allen Fieldhouse’s mid-court Jayhawk, took three dribbles — using the slightest of crossovers — at ISU junior forward Solomon Young and then sold his defender on a hard shoulder and ball fake toward the left side of the paint just to spin back the other direction for a bucket.
As Azubuike ran back to play defense, he shook that finger after showing off his handles and footwork.
“I guess my defender wasn’t expecting me to do that,” Azubuike said of what inspired him to bring his wag to offense.
The not-so-subtle motion former NBA shot blocker and defensive stalwart Mutombo made famous could go on display at any time now when Azubuike is on the floor.
“Just when I feel like doing it, I just do it,” the laughing big man explained, after putting up 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in KU’s 91-71 win.
It wasn’t Mutombo, though, that came to mind for KU point guard Devon Dotson, when he broke down the ball-handling skills Azubuike showed off in taking his man to the hoop.
“He looked like a young Joel Embiid out there,” Dotson proclaimed. “He looked good doing that. Put him in a blender.”
KU’s 20-year old starting center just chuckled at that comparison.
“I don’t know,” Azubuike said of his display being reminiscent of Embiid, the former KU center who is now an All-Star for the Philadelphia 76ers. “I just got the ball and I decided to take my chances and dribble the ball and it got in.”
It’s seldom that Azubuike even has the ball in his hands outside of the 3-point arc, let alone gets a chance to show off his ball-handling ability. The largest man in the building wasn’t about to make anyone think he should become a guard.
Still, he enjoys those rare instances when he can prove there’s more to his game and potential than most realize.
“For a big, I think I can dribble the ball,” Azubuike said. “With my size, I have confidence in my dribbling. So as soon as I got the ball and I saw an open space, I decided to dribble it.”
That instinct might have turned disastrous earlier in his KU career. But not even Azubuike’s staunchest supporter and harshest critic, Bill Self, could complain about what he saw from the center when Azubuike opted to go off the bounce in the half court.
“I thought it was pretty good,” KU’s coach said of the move. “I thought Dok had his moments. He turned it over (six times). He was careless. But I thought that was pretty impressive, what he did, and certainly showed how athletic he is.”
KU’s other active big, David McCormack, said “you never know” what Azubuike might do on a given night. But McCormack wasn’t necessarily surprised to see the senior attacking off the dribble.
The backup center recalled how at the Maui Invitational earlier this season, he witnessed the man everyone calls “Dok” swat a shot and then turn that defensive stop into a personal fast break.
“I don’t put it past him,” McCormack said. “If he can go coast to coast, he can take it from the 3-point line and make a nice move.”
According to Azubuike, he’s working on all of the skills he’s known for, as well as those he isn’t “every time” he’s in the gym.
“For me, some of the stuff we do in college, I don’t really have the space to prove everything I can do,” KU’s confident center shared.
The Jayhawks don’t need him out on the perimeter, though, so most of the time he sticks to his personal offensive responsibilities: posting up, setting screens and rolling to the basket.
“I’m just doing my part,” Azubuike said.