Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tom Keegan: KU’s bench delivers big punch during win against Duke

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) gets on the floor for a ball with Duke forward Amile Jefferson (21) during the first half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) gets on the floor for a ball with Duke forward Amile Jefferson (21) during the first half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York.


— It doesn’t take an entire village to beat Duke, the nation’s top-ranked college basketball team. But it does take a bench, and Kansas certainly had one of those Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden, the self-anointed world’s greatest arena.

On a night in which more whistles echoed throughout the building in a 40-minute basketball game at the Garden than during a three-hour Bruce Springsteen concert, reserves needed to step into the spotlight and help Kansas overcome a dreadful first-half performance. The whistles, by the way weren’t in response to great play, rather were sounded by referees overzealously putting greater emphasis on existing rules regarding fouls in the post.

Led by Lagerald Vick, a sophomore limited to garbage time a year ago, and 17-year-old freshman Udoka Azubuike, the Kansas bench delivered in a big way to help the Jayhawks build a 12-point lead midway through the second half.

Not even Fearless Frank Mason can do it all, except at the end of games, that is, so the efforts of the reserves made a huge difference in Kansas evening its record and avoiding what would have been its first 0-2 start since 1972, or one year after Ali-Frazier I, the most famous of many huge events in the Garden.

Sure, the game predictably was won by Mason, who blends the freakish athleticism Muhammad Ali brought to the ring with the lead-with-the-chin style and height challenges of Smokin’ Joe Frazier, but far less experienced players deserve to take a bow, as well.

Looking so comfortable for a player who as a freshman rode the bench, Vick drove to the hoop and attacked the glass with a nice blend of hunger and poise.

On a night he missed all four of his three-point shots, Vick contributed nine points and four rebounds in 31 minutes. Josh Jackson fouled out in 18 minutes, which made it imperative that Vick be up to the moment and the long, slender, ultra-quick sophomore from Memphis answered the call.

When he took his turn guarding Duke star Grayson Allen, Vick didn’t fare as well as teammates Mason, Jackson and Devonté Graham did, but just the fact that Kansas coach Bill Self trusted him at all with that assignment says plenty about what he thinks of the player he routinely calls KU’s most improved from a year ago.

Vick looked smooth, not a word that will fit KU’s other key bench contributor, the 7-foot, 270-pound Azubuike, any time soon.

At times, Azubuike had the ball in his hands in the right place at the right time, but not at the right time in his basketball development. Once, he wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, so he bounced it off the floor. He looked around and still wasn’t sure what to do with it, so he bounced it again. Double-dribble.

Later in the game, Azubuike received an over-the-top pass on a play guards Mason and Graham executed so well all night, and missed a two-footer by more than two feet.

Azubuike’s stamina isn’t where it needs to be yet, but his effort can’t be questioned. He huffed and puffed his way to a team-high 12 rebounds in just 15 minutes of action, leading the team with four offensive boards and eight on the defensive end. He also mixed in a steal, a blocked shot and six points.

“I was really encouraged,” Self said of Azubuike’s play. “He’s as raw as there is. He actually has a good touch shooting the ball, little jump-hooks around the basket. He didn’t have a chance to show that tonight.”

He did have a chance to show what he can do to camouflage KU’s rebounding deficiencies.

“We’re not a great rebounding team by any stretch, and he gets 12 in 15 minutes and our other bigs get seven in 30,” Self said. “As he gets more comfortable, I certainly see his minutes going up. He’s going to be as important as anybody on our team in how good we can be.”

Mason called Azubuike’s role in the come-from-behind victory, “very important. He did what we need him to do. He rebounded offensively and defensively and we need that from him moving forward.”

Vick did what was needed as well. His 31 minutes were more than one-third of his season total (91) from a year ago.

The bench enabled Kansas to win a game without its prettiest effort.

By the Numbers: Kansas 77, Duke 75

By the Numbers: Kansas 77, Duke 75

— See what people were saying about KU's matchup against Duke during’s live coverage.

More news and notes from the win against Duke


Henry Joseph Hofmeister 6 years ago

Mason III doesn't get nearly enough credit. If he remains healthy throughout the season he should be a top 10 point pick. He knows how to drive against wiggins and every top guard in the nba.

Steve Zimmerman 6 years ago

Do you think FM3 can still grow, say 1"-2" taller? If not, there's still a chance,... if he can shoot 3 like Curry. FM3 still has a lot to learn to be a great PG. He has to make his team better, involve them in scoring, providing easy baskets. Steals more..

Clarence Haynes 6 years ago

We know what to expect from Mason (alpha male), Graham, and Jackson, but Dok was a big spark last night!

Brett McCabe 6 years ago

Nice article, Tom. This is why the pro's are the pro's.

To continue your analogy, perhaps Dok is the pre-Zaire Formean and Vick is Ken Norton. Makes for a pretty good stable of fighters!

Andy Godwin 6 years ago

The Lucas/Azubuike situation reminds me a bit of the Black/Embiid combo. Tarik Black was brought in as a senior transfer to give Embiid, who was "very raw", a chance to develop (Self had hoped for two seasons). But Black would constantly foul early in the game and Self had to go to Embiid. Ultimately it was clear Embiid was a special, special player and even though Black was super athletic (why in the NBA and playing minutes for the Lakers) Embiid became the starter. Azubuike is big and strong, but is clearly not as athletic as Embiid (so not comparing talent because Embiid could run the floor and beat his man down the court every time), but if he continues to develop he will undoubtedly get more minutes and may be finishing games (which to Self is more important than starting). Glad to see a space eater go after rebounds. Vick was also active on the boards, so Self's message about being more aggressive showed up last night.

Jesse Johnson 6 years ago

Good points. I personally think Self needs to give Udoka as many minutes as possible over the rest of the non-conference to allow him to develop. Just let him play till he fouls out every game. He already provides more in rebounding and post defense than any of the other bigs and once he has polished his game a bit more he could be the missing piece we need to succeed this year. I just don't see Bragg ever developing as a post presence on defense, and he only grabs the occasional rebound. Lucas is a better rebounder than Bragg, but Udoka is even better and has a much higher ceiling as far as how much better he can make the team.

Barry Weiss 6 years ago

No doubt I would give Udoka a start. It will let Lucas heal from his foot injury and he must have a thumb injury as he gets stripped of the ball every game several times. While he is healing on the bench, Udoka will get minutes with the starters. He was a warrior on the boards and that is what we need at the 5.

Gerry Butler 6 years ago

I think Udoka by the time conference comes around will be much improved. If he just gets some kind of offensive presence, oh ya it's on baby. The kid is going to be an absolute animal, gets the boards, already can see where he is working harder not to foul so easily. Gonna be hard because of his size the ref's as if they need any more reason is like oh well if a player bounces off Udoka then it has to be a foul on the animal - -but he gonna be just fine - -I'm feeling 3 years out of this guy maybe wishful thinking

Len Shaffer 6 years ago

What an impressive victory! if we were going to go 1-1, I'd much rather the win be against Duke (even a less-than-fully healthy Duke) than against Indiana.

Given how well Frank has played in his first two games against stellar competition, is it realistic to think he has a shot at national POY?

Margaret Schadler 6 years ago

Vick and Dok did contribute, but I think Svi made the biggest contribution off the bench, and he wasn't even mentioned in this article.

Steve Zimmerman 6 years ago

Amen to that!! Svi looked more and more comfortable (except missing the bunny at critical time vs Dook) in each game. He is smart and knows how to get his team scoring easy buckets. He can read where his teammates are. He has what it takes to be a great PG. He can become like Zach Lavine, just grow bigger balls. Take more risks going inside. I watched his vids playing in pro league, he was more aggressive, acted like a leader. But, in KU jersey, he seems to hide those characters, perhaps acknowledging that FM3 is the boss, obeying coach, or for whatever reason..

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