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KU coach Bill Self: ‘I can paint a pretty bleak picture sometimes; we’re still 8-3’

Kansas head coach Bill Self congratulates his players and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) following the Jayhawks' 92-86 win over Texas don Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Kansas head coach Bill Self congratulates his players and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) following the Jayhawks' 92-86 win over Texas don Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

Most years, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self is peppered with questions on a weekly basis about weaknesses, low points or obstacles to the Jayhawks being the supreme college basketball program in all the land.

And most years, it's Self's high demands and stringent coach's perspective on every detail of his team's performance that leads the questions that direction.

Throw in the fact that the Jayhawks have lost three games at Allen Fieldhouse already this season and are playing with a paper-thin bench and a group of players who, though talented, have not yet fully clicked for any kind of period of time, and it's easy to see how Self could, would and perhaps even should be hypercritical of everything involving his team right now.

But that was not the way things went down on Thursday afternoon, at his regularly scheduled news conference, where, between fielding questions about KU's progress and the individual strengths and weaknesses of nearly every player in KU's rotation, Self hit the pause button.

“I think we've had some guys individually get better,” Self began, when asked if the opportunity to play a team for the second time in a season — a la Baylor on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Waco, Texas — offered an opportunity to better assess progress. “Being a descendent of Tony Robbins, always being so positive all the time, I can paint a pretty bleak picture sometimes, (but) we're still 8-3.”

That's 8-3 in the Big 12. 19-5 overall. Both are records most coaches and programs would do anything for, and, at Kansas and with Self, those records spark a much different response.

“I had a text yesterday or this morning from one of my ex-players at Oklahoma State,” Self recalled. “He said, 'Coach, I know you're having a rough, rough season, but hang in there.' That is the mindset so much, in large part maybe because I help paint that in some ways. I'm not saying I'm happy by any stretch. I would just think that the tougher teams, the teams that can execute out of timeouts, the teams that understand the importance of getting two or three stops in a row at game point, those are the teams that will have a chance to finish strong and win the league.”

With seven games still to play — four on the road and three at home — Kansas has positioned itself to have that kind of finish.

Tied with Texas Tech for first place in the Big 12, the combined record of KU's final seven opponents is: 109-57 overall and 37-40 in Big 12 play compared to 114-53 and 39-38 for Texas Tech.

The two play each other again on Feb. 24 in Lubbock, Texas.

Who knows what will happen between now and then, or in the two conference games that remain after that one's over. Either way, record differential or not, it doesn't figure to be easy for either squad and likely will come down to the same thing that so many Big 12 games this season already have — stars and subs alike rising to the big moment.

“TCU, the first time we played them, our stuff worked, their stuff worked,” Self said. “The second time we played them, our stuff didn't work, their stuff didn't work. I think you probably have that in the NFL, the second time you play a team within your division. I think you'd have that wherever. In all honesty, the way you win more times than not (during) the second half (of the Big 12 schedule) is (with) guys making individual plays rather than scoring off your plays.”

Reply 6 comments from Navyhawk Harlan Hobbs Bryce Landon Chad Smith Tony Bandle Zabudda

Kansas City guard Ochai Agbaji to reveal college pick Thursday afternoon

Kansas University basketball recruiting

Kansas University basketball recruiting

Oak Park High senior Ochai Agbaji (pronounced Och-eye A-ba-gee), a 6-foot-5 wing regarded by many as the best player in the Kansas City area, is ready to announce his college of choice.

And he plans to do it at 2 p.m. Thursday during a ceremony at Oak Park.

Agbaji's recruitment is not the typical chase for the stars that that KU program is known to be involved with. But the Jayhawks, along with a handful of other schools from Power 5 conferences — Nebraska, Oregon, Wisconsin and Texas A&M among them — recently jumped into the race to land one of the fastest-rising recruits still available in the 2018 class.

Unranked by Rivals.com and slotted as the No. 328 prospect in the nation by 247 Sports — No. 75 overall among shooting guards and No. 11 in the state of Missouri — the 6-foot-5, 195-pound wing first received an offer from Kansas last weekend, after KU coach Bill Self made the drive over to watch Agbaji play live.

In that game, Agbaji poured in 29 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, displaying the kind of all-around game that has attracted some of the biggest programs in college basketball to take a closer look of late.

Dubbed by 247 Sports recruiting analyst Matt Scott “a walking box score,” Agbaji grew an inch from his playing days with MOKAN Elite last summer and has drawn comparisons to former KU star and Kansas City native Travis Releford but with a better jump shot.

After receiving an official scholarship offer from Self and the Jayhawks last week, Agbaji told Scott he was “excited about it” and added that it was “an honor.”

Those statements, along with an announcement date coming two days before he was expected to take an official visit to Oregon State over the weekend, have some thinking Kansas is in good shape with Agbaji.

But Kansas or not, the Jayhawks and the rest of the surging shooting guard's suitors will know by Thursday afternoon where Agbaji is headed.

Should Agbaji pick Kansas, he would become the fifth player in KU's 2018 class, joining five-star guards Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes and Top 40 big men Silvio De Sousa, who already with the team but still counts in the 2018 class, and David McCormack.

With De Sousa already having a scholarship and Dotson, Grimes and McCormack taking the scholarships made available by the combined departures of Billy Preston, Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, adding an additional player — or two; KU remains in the hunt for five-star guard Romeo Langford — would put Kansas one player over the scholarship limit and create an interesting situation heading into the offseason.

There would, of course, be all kinds of options — not to mention time — for Self and company to figure out the numbers crunch. And with Lagerald Vick, Udoka Azubuike and Malik Newman all having been kicked around as potential early-departures and transfers always being an option, it's not hard to see how Kansas could make any scenario (adding one player, two players or no players) work, should the need arise.

Check back with KUsports.com Thursday afternoon for more on Agbaji's big announcement.

Reply 36 comments from Carsonc30 Ryan Zimmerman Jessej421 Allan Olson Shimsham Roger Ortega Alan Dickey Texashawk10_2 Harlan Hobbs Runningbeakers84 and 9 others

Postgame Report Card: Kansas 71, TCU 64

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) fights for a ball with several TCU players during the first half on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) fights for a ball with several TCU players during the first half on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 71-64 grind-it-out victory over TCU at Allen Fieldhouse.

Offense: B

Devonte' Graham and Udoka Azubuike combined to shoot 13-of-26 from the floor for 40 points. That's an A. Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk combined to shoot 1-of-11 from the floor for five points. That's a D. The tie-breaker? Marcus Garrett and Mitch Lightfoot combined to shoot 7-of-9 from the floor for 16 points on a night when the Jayhawks needed every point they could muster. Call it a B, especially considering KU's 70 percent shooting from the free throw line.

Defense: A

The Horned Frogs entered the game averaging 86 points per game and operating as one of the most efficient offensive teams in the Big 12 Conference. Kansas held them to 64 points — 28 in the second half — on 40 percent shooting. It might not always have been pretty, but it was a damn good defensive effort by the home team, one that featured a ton effort, energy and desire.

Frontcourt: A

Udoka Azubuike delivered the kind of double-double he should have most nights out and Mitch Lightfoot was rock solid in his first start. If KU gets more nights like that from its two big men, this team could turn a corner in a hurry. Azubuike was a force on both ends, dunking over people at will on offense and skying high for defensive boards. He even blocked a pair of shots and grabbed three offensive rebounds. The best part? They committed just four fouls between them and made a monster impact in just 47 combined minutes.

Backcourt: B+

We covered this a bit in the offensive grade, but this one gets the plus because of the big night delivered by Graham — when KU absolutely had to have it — and the ultra-solid 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting from back-up guards Garrett and Lagerald Vick. Svi and Newman were not good offensively, but both played hard and found other ways to impact the game. Newman's five assists tied for the team high and Svi's 36 minutes and presence as a player the TCU defense absolutely had to respect and pay attention to opened things up inside for Azubuike.

Bench: A

I'm not sure you can get much more out of Garrett, who made all four shots he attempted and grabbed two rebounds and dished an assist in 15 minutes. And Vick, after being benched at the start of the game, still played 29 minutes and, at times, looked as aggressive as he has looked in weeks. TCU's a good team. This was a good win. Nobody in a Kansas uniform is apologizing for the way it came or looked. All that matters is how it reads on their record.

By the Numbers: Kansas 71, TCU 64.

By the Numbers: Kansas 71, TCU 64.

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KU Sports Extra: Outplayed by Oklahoma State

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Postgame Report Card: Oklahoma State 84, Kansas 79

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) and Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) have a talk at half court during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) and Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) have a talk at half court during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 84-79 loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.

Offense: C-

Despite reaching 79 points, it certainly was an off day for the Kansas offense. The Jayhawks made just one 3-pointer in the first half and struggled throughout the day from the outside and also turned it over 11 times, most of them coming as they tried to initiate offense while digging the first-half hole. A few late shots made the percentages respectable and KU certainly did not lose this one on the offensive end. But had the offense been its normal, 3-point shooting machine, KU may have had less of a hole to crawl out of.

Defense: C-

After the loss, KU coach Bill Self said the team's first-shot defense was decent. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, when you give back nearly half of the 30 shots the opponent misses, that's not going to show up in the box score. Beyond that, Kansas could not find a way to get the late stop it needed, allowing OSU to shoot 51.6 percent from the floor for the game and 44.4 percent from 3-point range.

Frontcourt: C

Stop me if you've heard this one... Udoka Azubuike was great when he was out there, but too many silly fouls limited his minutes. Azubuike played just 21 minutes and grabbed 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting in that time. He snagged just five rebounds and also turned it over twice. There were plenty of effort plays on Azubuike's behalf. And his free throws, for the second game in a row, looked much better. But KU needs him to be more of a factor all over the stat sheet and not just in the points column.

Backcourt: B-

Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhaililuk (17 points apiece) did what they could, though neither player delivered a particularly solid game. And Malik Newman had one heck of an eight-point spurt in the second half en route to his 16-point total. But Lagerald Vick was nowhere to be found — 2-of-10 shooting, five points, three rebounds, three turnovers in 34 minutes — and Marcus Garrett's 14 minutes in relief were mostly quiet.

Bench: D

Mitch Lightfoot had a couple of moments, but was nothing like the player KU fans now know he can be. And Silvio De Sousa and Marcus Garrett didn't do much to affect this one.

By the Numbers: Oklahoma State 84, Kansas 79.

By the Numbers: Oklahoma State 84, Kansas 79.

Reply 10 comments from Halogenlampss Matt Tait Brian Skelly Faustusku Doug Clark John Myers

The most memorable moments from 120 years of Kansas Basketball

From James Naismith and Phog Allen to Bill Self and so many memorable people, places and moments in between, the first 120 years of Kansas Basketball, which will be celebrated Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, during KU's home game with Oklahoma State, have delivered some of the best success and story lines that college basketball has to offer.

From James Naismith and Phog Allen to Bill Self and so many memorable people, places and moments in between, the first 120 years of Kansas Basketball, which will be celebrated Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, during KU's home game with Oklahoma State, have delivered some of the best success and story lines that college basketball has to offer. by Matt Tait

When it comes to praising all of the things for which Kansas basketball is known, former KU coach Larry Brown perhaps said it up best when he opined, “there's no better place to coach, there's no better place to go to school and there's no better place to play,” a heartfelt endorsement of a school he loves that, until recently, still could be heard during the Jayhawks' pregame intro video.

But Brown is far from the only legendary name to sing the praises of the KU program, Allen Fieldhouse or the Jayhawk mystique throughout the years.

And while it's easy to see how a coach who worked the sidelines at Allen Fieldhouse would view KU as one of the greatest spots to do the job, it's the comments from those who did not wear crimson and blue that often seem most powerful and do the best job of putting things into perspective.

The list is long and full of just as many legendary names as anonymous faces.

One after the next, whether they've been to Lawrence a dozen times or were visiting for the first time, coaches large and small walk into Allen Fieldhouse eager to see how their teams will handle it and usually don't leave without uttering some sort of soliloquy that, more often than not, includes the words “special place.”

It's the venue, the fan base, the players and the atmosphere that make it that way, of course. But it's the thousands of hours of blood, sweat and tears that have gone into turning Kansas into one of the few truly elite programs in all of college basketball that have built Kansas basketball into a powerhouse brand.

Three of the eight coaches who have kept watch on the program will be in town this weekend — Brown, Ted Owens and Bill Self — and dozens of others with ties to the program also will make an appearance at an event that is celebrated every five years in one way or another.

“I think we have just under 200 ex-players coming back, plus managers, secretaries and people who have really given a lot to this place,” Self said this week. “With the players coming back, all of them can bring a guest, and the banquet that night only accommodates 400 or 450 so it'll be packed in there tight, but it'll be fun. All the ex-guys will certainly enjoy it and I know I'll enjoy getting a chance to see some folks I haven't seen in a while.”

As the Jayhawks prepare for a weekend's worth of celebration, honoring the 120-year history of Kansas basketball, let's take a quick look back at some of the best and most memorable moments that have dotted the last 120 years, stretching over 13 decades.

1890s

The year was 1899 and the date was Feb. 3. That was when the Kansas Jayhawks played their first official game of basketball. Led by the game's inventor, James Naismith, the Jayhawks lost that game to Kansas City YMCA and three others that season, finishing the first season of Kansas basketball with a 7-4 record.

1900s

The turn of the century also brought one of the most important hires in the history of the program. After running the program for nine years, Naismith eventually stepped away and hired one of his former players, Forrest C. “Phog” Allen to handle the job. Allen, the man for whom Allen Fieldhouse later was named, led the Jayhawks for 39 seasons in two stints and was driven to prove wrong Naismith's claim that “you can't coach basketball; you just play it.” Hired in 1907, Phog Allen contributed dozens of important moments to the history of college basketball and was known as "The Father of Basketball Coaching.”

1910s

In what can only be described as the most uneventful decade of Kansas basketball, the Jayhawks merely won 125 games under W.O. Hamilton and brought home five conference championships in the process. KU finished with just one loss in three of Hamilton's 10 seasons and enjoyed a 21-game winning streak that spanned the end of the 1913-14 season and the beginning of the 1914-15 season.

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1920s

Led by Phog Allen, the Jayhawks finished the 1921-22 and 1922-23 seasons with a combined record of 33-3, which, later, was good enough to earn KU two retroactively-awarded Helms Foundational national titles, which are honored on two of the five national championship banners hanging inside Allen Fieldhouse. After a 10-year coaching stint by W.O. Hamilton, who finished with a 125-59 record from 1909-1919, Allen retook control of the program and led the Jayhawks until 1956. One of the more notable names of the decade was Adolph Rupp, who played for Allen from 1920-23. Seven years later, Rupp began a 41-year coaching career at Kentucky that produced 876 victories, which ranks him fifth on the all-time list.

1930s

In addition to winning a ton of games in this decade, Allen helped create something that has become one of the biggest spectacles in the history of sports and continues to grow bigger and bigger every year. First played in 1939, Allen the modern NCAA Tournament, which featured a bracket and the first ever Final Four. Villanova, Ohio State, Oregon and Oklahoma played in that first Final Four, with Oregon topping Ohio State to claim the first official NCAA championship.

1940s

It's happened 13 more times since, but in 1940, Phog Allen's Jayhawks reached the first Final Four in school history, knocking off Rice, 50-44, to advance to the national semifinals. While there, second-seeded Kansas disposed of USC by a single point before falling to top-seeded Indiana, 60-42 in the national title game. That team, which featured, among others, Dick Harp and Ralph Miller, finished 19-6 and won its eighth Big Six championship in a 10-year span.

1950s

Arguably the most memorable decade in Kansas basketball history, the '50s featured not only KU's first NCAA championship (1952) but also a group of Jayhawks winning Olympic gold, the opening of Allen Fieldhouse in 1955, the arrival of Wilt Chamberlain one year later and one of the most memorable games in school history, a triple-overtime loss to North Carolina in the 1957 national title game. The Jayhawks also reached three Final Fours during the 1950s and saw the end of Phog Allen's stellar coaching career in 1956. When all was said and done, Allen left KU with a career coaching record of 590-219. Through his first 15 seasons, current KU coach Bill Self is now second to Allen in all-time Kansas victories with a career record of 434-92. Another notable name to play at Kansas in the '50s was Emporia native Dean Smith, who played at Kansas under Phog Allen from 1949-53. After a short stint as a KU assistant after graduation, Smith started his coaching career as an assistant at North Carolina in 1958 before taking over as the UNC head coach in 1961 and walking away after 36 seasons and 879 victories.

1960s

On Feb. 3, 1969, exactly 70 years to the day of the first ever basketball game in school history, Kansas picked up victory No. 1,000, with 64-48 victory over Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse. In 1964, Ted Owens was hired to replace Dick Harp and Owens would go on to lead the Jayhawks for the next 19 seasons, guiding Kansas to six Big Eight titles, seven NCAA Tournament appearances and two trips to the Final Four. Owens and the Jayhawks were inches away from reaching the Final Four in 1966, but what appeared to be a game-winning shot by point guard Jo Jo White in the first overtime of a game against Texas Western was waived off after White was whistled for stepping out of bounds. Texas Western won in double overtime and went on to defeat Kentucky for the national title, becoming the first team to field an all-black starting lineup to win the title.

1970s

On Senior Night of a particularly disappointing 1971-72 season in which the Jayhawks finished 11-15, senior Bud Stallworth provided one of the most memorable individual efforts in KU history. Facing arch-rival Missouri at Allen Fieldhouse, Stallworth exploded for 50 points — the second most ever by a KU player, behind Wilt Chamberlain's 52 — and ended the season on a positive note. Two years later, led by a group of talented juniors, Owens and the Jayhawks reached the Final Four for the second time in the decade, joining the 1970-71 squad as the fifth and sixth Final Four teams in school history.

1980s

The 1980s featured two of the most memorable coaching hires in school history — Larry Brown in 1983 and Roy Williams in 1988 — and also delivered Kansas its second NCAA title, when Danny and the Miracles wrote a Cinderella story en route to the 1988 national championship. Back in the Final Four for the second time in three years under Brown, the 1988 Jayhawks won the title as a No. 6 seed, knocking off fourth-seeded Kansas State, second-seeded Duke and top-seeded Oklahoma in successive rounds, avenging regular season losses to all three programs in the process. Following the magical 1987-88 season, Danny Manning went on to become the No. 1 overall pick in the 1988 NBA Draft. Manning still holds KU's all-time records for career points (2,951) and rebounds (1,187).

1990s

With a little-known former North Carolina assistant coach named Roy Williams, suddenly running the show, it did not take KU fans long to realize just how good they had it. Williams led the Jayhawks to two Final Fours in his first five seasons, leading the 1990-91 Jayhawks to the national title game and the 1992-93 team to the national semifinals. The 1990s also featured the arrival of players such as Rex Walters, Adonis Jordan, Paul Pierce, Jacque Vaughn, Raef LaFrentz and Jerod Haase, all players who contributed mightily to Williams' signature style of fast-paced basketball and tremendous effort at all times.

2000s

After a decade of heartbreaking NCAA Tournament losses, the Jayhawks got back to the promised land in the 2000s, with Williams guiding KU to back-to-back Final Fours in 2001-02 and 2002-03 and a trip to the 2003 national title game. That game, an 81-78 loss by Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison-led Jayhawks to Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse, wound up being the final Kansas game ever coached by Williams, who left for North Carolina, his alma mater, following the season. That paved the way for the Jayhawks to replace him with Bill Self, who, five years later, did something Williams could never do at Kansas — cut down the nets and win the NCAA Tournament. Self's 2007-08 team that finished 37-3 was one of the best college teams of all-time and was crowned champion after a miracle 3-pointer by Mario Chalmers sent the national title game with Memphis into overtime, where Kansas won, 75-68.

2010s

After a few disappointments of his own, Self's squad finally got back to the Final Four in 2012, with a team led by tough-as-nails leaders Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson. That group lost to Kentucky in the national title game. That same year, the Jayhawks won the final Border War showdown with Missouri in an epic game at Allen Fieldhouse that featured the Jayhawks coming back from 19 down to win in overtime. Two years earlier, in 2010, Self led the Jayhawks to the program's 2,000th victory, making Kansas just the third team in NCAA history to reach that milestone. In 2014, one-and-done Jayhawk Andrew Wiggins became the second KU player to become the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Three years later, point guard Frank Mason III became the first Kansas player to sweep all of the country's national player of the year honors after becoming the first player in Big 12 history to average 20 points and five assists in a single season. In 2017, just prior to the start of his 15th season in charge of the Kansas program, Self was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

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Reply 17 comments from Harlan Hobbs Mike Riches Robert Lofthouse David Kelley-Wood Len Shaffer Wissoxfan83 Kenneth Johnson Tony Bandle Titus Canby Matt Tait and 2 others

Self says Azubuike continuing to work on free throws ‘the right way’

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike, right, has a laugh with Kansas guard Lagerald Vick during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike, right, has a laugh with Kansas guard Lagerald Vick during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Monday's 2-of-5 free throw showing, which included two makes in a row late in the game, might have removed Kansas big man Udoka Azubuike from the free throw dog house.

But it does not mean Azubuike's free throw woes are fixed for good.

Kansas coach Bill Self was asked about every detail of Azubuike's free throw fix during his Hawk Talk radio show on Wednesday night, and the veteran KU coach who personally worked with Azubuike to help reset his form following an 0-of-6 performance at Oklahoma that, at least in part, contributed to KU's loss there, again explained that improving Azubuike's free throw shooting was a work still in progress.

“I don't think there's an overnight formula that, all of a sudden, he's going to go from a 40 percent to an 80 percent free throw shooter,” Self explained of Azubuike, who currently is shooting .377 at the line. “But hopefully he can get a little bit more consistent and, most importantly, get some confidence there.”

Consistency has been the biggest key in this whole experiment, which is just over a week old now. That's not to say that Azubuike and his coaches did not recognize and address his free throw woes prior to that OU loss. They did. But it was not until the player who already was known as a poor free throw shooter came up short on the biggest and brightest stage that inspired real change.

“He's trying and he's doing better,” Self said. “It's not going to be fixed. I mean, it's going to take months to get it where it's a habit and he can repeat it. But he's doing a lot better, he's trying hard and he's shooting a lot of them and he's practicing the right way, so he'll continue to see more success.”

Self again on Wednesday said he was the one specifically working with Azubuike on his new form, which looks markedly better than what he showed at Oklahoma and features a tighter, more compact approach rather than arms and elbows pointing every which way.

“This was me,” Self said. “So I'll take the blame if it doesn't go well and he deserves all the credit if it does. One thing in shooting, you can't hear more than one voice and everybody's got their own idea on how he should do it. He needs to not listen to anybody. And I don't think he is. He's been pretty committed to doing the same things that we've been working on.”

Asked if he had received any tips or advice from inside the coaching world on how to help Azubuike, Self said simply, “No. No. Coaches don't do that.”

“We've all been taught how to shoot a certain way and there are certain things that some people think are more important than others and I certainly respect that,” he continued. “But the way that (one coach teaches) it doesn't necessarily fit everybody. So you have to make adjustments based on who the individuals are. … You don't change something that's been practiced a certain way for 12 years in a weekend or whatever. I think his routine is better and more consistent and he's going to be fine.”

Reply 6 comments from Jack Krebs Dale Rogers Jack Joiner Jerry Walker Benjamin Jones Pius Waldman

Azubuike’s new free throw form a step in the right direction

None by Scott Chasen

KU fans dying to see the new and improved free throw form developed by KU big man Udoka Azubuike that came as a result of an 0-for-6 night at the line in a losing effort at last week at Oklahoma finally got their chance to see it live during Monday's 70-56 win at Kansas State.

Azubuike, who entered Monday as a 37.5 percent free throw shooter, did not attempt a single free throw in KU's win over Texas A&M last weekend, leaving both lingering questions about the big man's shot and more time for him to work on it.

The result of that hard work — which included one-on-one time with KU coach Bill Self and, according to teammate Mitch Lightfoot, “lots of free throws,” — was on display Monday night — both before and during the game — and Azubuike, though far from perfect, knocked in two of the five free throws he attempted in the win over K-State.

Instead of shooting his free throws with the ball off to the left of his head and his right elbow cocked way out wide to the right, Azubuike's new form featured the ball directly in front of his face and his right elbow tucked tighter to his body.

That 2-of-5 performance Monday night — which actually was 2-of-6 because the Wildcats were whistled for a lane violation on one of the misses and Azubuike followed that up by missing the third try — included one trip late when Azubuike made both attempts, which sent the small contingent of KU fans behind the Kansas bench into a frenzy.

“The last two looked good,” Self said. “I thought the first one looked good. I don't know that two and three looked great, but it was nice for him to make a couple.”

Added Lightfoot: “It's great for his confidence because confidence is everything when it comes to the free throw line. He's been shooting the ball really well in practice from the free throw line. He leaves practice to go shoot free throws for a while and he's just really getting his stroke. Hats off to him. I know the big fella can shoot them. I've seen him shoot them. I've sat there and rebounded for him and he can make them. He's changed (his shot) a little bit to where he keeps it in front of his face more and I think that's done wonders for him.”

What's more, the change could do wonders for Kansas. Had Azubuike made 2-of-5 in the loss to Oklahoma, that easily could have been a win. And if he's able to shoot 2-of-5 or better the rest of the way, it may turn opponents off on the idea of employing the Hack-a-Dok strategy that the Sooners used.

K-State coach Bruce Weber said the Wildcats planned to foul Azubuike in a similar manner but were told by officials before the game that any intentional fouls needed to be in the flow of the action or else they would be called as flagrant, which would have given KU two free throws and possession of the ball.

Regardless of Azubuike's numbers — the 2-of-5 mark pushed his percentage up ever so slightly from .375 to .377 — or their impact on Monday's game, Azubuike's teammates seemed most pleased to see good things happening for the sophomore center again.

“It was just great to see someone who worked so hard after that tough game at OU, work on his free throws, make them look a little prettier, which it does now, and knock them down,” Lightfoot said. “It was just great.”

Reply 5 comments from Jack Joiner David Robinett Jaylark Randy Signor

Postgame Report Card: Kansas 70, Kansas State 56

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) elevates to the bucket against Kansas State forward Dean Wade (32) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) elevates to the bucket against Kansas State forward Dean Wade (32) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 70-56 road win vs. Kansas State on Big Monday in Manhattan.

Offense: A-

The Jayhawks made 12-of-14 shots to open the game, 6-of-7 from 3-point range and raced out to a 15-point lead early and a 13-point lead at the half. KU's miserable stretch to open the second half brought this down a bit, but 46 percent for the game, 45 percent from 3-point range and 73 percent from the free throw line (not to mention a double-digit road win) easily kept it in the A range.

Defense: A

K-State's shooting totals are as ugly as KU's were pretty (32.3 FG, 22.2 3-point), but that was just the half of it. KU's 2-3 zone defense completely flustered Dean Wade, who could have won this game by himself the way he opened it, and Kansas competed hard on the glass to finally out-rebound an opponent for the first time in 11 games.

Frontcourt: B

Give sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot the A and sophomore center Udoka Azubuike a C. That averages out to a B and the Jayhawks have Lightfoot to thank for a relatively easy win. He played over his head a little — although efforts like Monday are becoming somewhat expected and routine — and has become a reliably consistent force for the Jayhawks inside.

Backcourt: A

Forty minutes (again) for Graham, 40 more for Malik Newman and 39 for Svi Mykhailiuk, who led the Jayhawks in scoring. Heck, even Lagerald Vick looked as aggressive as he has in a handful of games and only Marcus Garrett actually struggled in this one, playing just four minutes and picking up three first-half fouls.

Bench: B-

Garrett and Silvio De Sousa were non-factors in six combined minutes and Sam Cunliffe showed better on the stat sheet than he did to the eye. That leaves Lightfoot, who was good enough throughout this one to bring this one up a full letter grade. His stats did not fully illustrate his importance. Not even close.

Reply 3 comments from Doug Merrill Plasticjhawk Jim Stauffer

Jayhawks check in at No. 7 in this week’s AP Top 25

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) tries to drive against Oklahoma guard Trae Young (11) during the second half at Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma.

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) tries to drive against Oklahoma guard Trae Young (11) during the second half at Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

A mid-week loss to Oklahoma, which remained at No. 12 in this week's poll, dropped the Kansas men's basketball two spots to No. 7 in the latest Associated Press Top 25.

Kansas, which leads the Big 12 by one game over four teams tied for second, checks in as the highest ranked team in the nation's No. 1-ranked conference, with Texas Tech (No. 10), Oklahoma (12) and West Virginia (15) all ranked in the Top 15.

Kansas State, which has won four straight and crawled into the Big 12 title race since losing by a single point in Lawrence earlier this month, is not ranked in this week's Top 25 but could take a big step toward jumping into next week's poll with a win over KU in front of a charged-up environment in Manhattan tonight.

The top four in this week's poll remained the same — Villanova, Virginia, Purdue and Duke — while Michigan State and Xavier both jumped Kansas.

The Jayhawks extended their nation's best streak of consecutive weeks ranked in the AP Top 25 to 174 weeks (Villanova is second in active streaks at 86 weeks) and will look to begin the climb back up starting tonight against K-State.

Despite falling two spots in the AP Poll, the Jayhawks actually made a move up in ESPN.com's latest Bracketology from Joe Lunardi. Lunardi now has KU as a No. 1 seed in the West region. Just four days ago, the Jayhawks were a No. 2 seed in the Midwest, according to Lunardi.

Here's a quick look at this week's AP Top 25:

1 – Villanova (47), 20-1

2 – Virginia (17), 20-1

3 – Purdue (1), 21-2

4 – Duke, 18-3

5 – Michigan State, 20-3

6 – Xavier, 19-3

7 – Kansas, 17-4

8 – Cincinnati, 19-2

9 – Arizona, 18-4

10 – Texas Tech, 17-4

11 – Auburn, 19-2

12 – Oklahoma, 15-5

13 – Saint Mary's, 21-2

14 – Gonzaga, 19-4

15 – West Virginia, 16-5

16 – Wichita State, 17-4

17 – Ohio State, 18-5

18 – Tennessee, 15-5

19 – North Carolina, 16-6

20 – Clemson, 17-4

21 – Kentucky, 16-5

22 – Rhode Island, 17-3

23 – Florida, 15-6

24 – Michigan, 17-6

25 – Arizona State, 16-5

Reply 6 comments from Crimson_bluescottco Jim Chastain Len Shaffer Zabudda Gerry Butler Dirk Medema