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Azubuike out for South Dakota, but KU's junior center remains on track to return before Big 12 play

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Injured center Udoka Azubuike  watches from the bench during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018 at Sprint Center.

Injured center Udoka Azubuike watches from the bench during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018 at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said Monday that junior center Udoka Azubuike would not play in Tuesday 7 p.m. home matchup with South Dakota at Allen Fieldhouse, marking the third consecutive season game that Azubuike will miss.

“I would definitely say none tomorrow,” Self said Monday when asked if there was a chance that Azubuike could play this week. “But I don’t know moving forward. But, if he does (after that) he won’t be 100 percent. You know, we won’t put him out there if he can hurt it worse, but it’s a sprained ankle so he can probably go as pain tolerates. But, as of now, I can’t see it.”

Azubuike, who had been wearing a boot and walking with the help of crutches in the days following the injury to his right ankle, which came early on in KU’s home win over Wofford on Dec. 4, on Monday was seen walking with a slight limp as he headed out to practice.

Self said he would like Azubuike to have the chance to test the ankle out so he knows what he’s working with in a game-like setting before the end of the year.

“I think it’d be important to get him out there as soon as he can before we start conference play, for sure,” said Self, referencing KU’s Big 12 opener at home against Oklahoma on Jan. 2. “I don’t know if that’s this week or right after Christmas, but I think that is important.”

The goal of getting Azubuike back into the action before a key conference game is reminiscent of the importance of Azubuike getting just a few minutes on the floor against No. 16 seed Penn in the first round of last year's NCAA Tournament in Wichita.

That stretch allowed Azubuike to feel the flow of the game again and put him in much better position to return to a bigger role in Round 2 against Seton Hall, where he proved to be enormous in helping KU survive Seton Hall big man Angel Delgado on their way to the Sweet 16.

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