Monday, January 15, 2018


Tom Keegan: Jayhawks far more effective with Azubuike on the floor

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) reacts after being whistled for a technical following a dunk during the first half, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) reacts after being whistled for a technical following a dunk during the first half, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia.


Morgantown, W.Va. — Two different Kansas basketball teams took the floor at WVU Coliseum for a Big Monday thriller won by Kansas, 71-66, on a furious late comeback from a 16-point deficit.

The Jayhawks who played when sophomore center Udoka Azubuike sat nursing foul trouble looked small, slight of build, no match for a shot-blocker freed to block the rim no matter who attacked it.

When Azubuike sat, Sagaba Konate was fresher, not having to jostle for position with KU’s big man for most of the half. Konate ran the floor like a guard, getting back to protect the rim against Kansas players looking to attack in transition and he had a blast doing it. He blocked five first-half shots, none in the second half.

Azubuike played six first-half minutes and had nobody to blame for that but himself. He was slapped with a technical for his first foul and picked up his second foul in careless fashion.

He played 14-second half minutes until fouling out with 1:01 left, which wasn’t necessarily the worst thing considering his free-throw shooting challenges.

West Virginia won the first half, 41-28, Kansas the second half, 43-25.

Sure, there were even bigger factors, such as KU doing a way better job of taking care of the ball after the break, and Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk taking over when the Jayhawks went on the game-winning run.

But Azubuike’s game-changing presence was undeniable. In the 20 minutes he played, Kansas outscored the Mountaineers by 20 points. In the 20 minutes he sat, West Virginia had a 15-point advantage on the scoreboard.

“It’s hard for us to score if we can’t play through a center,” Self said of one of the differences between the halves.

Azubuike totaled 10 points and nine rebounds, didn’t have any turnovers, and picked up a block and a steal.

“At halftime, we told him to come out and be aggressive, those two fouls are over,” Graham said. “You have a whole new half. Come out and rebound, do the little things to help us win, and he did that.”

Although most of Konate’s blocked shots in the first half came in transition, his presence wasn’t felt as much by KU’s guards when Azubuike was in the game. 

“Any time Dok’s in the game the defense is worried about him,” Graham said. “Either the big man’s going to be on him and that opens up driving lanes for us or they’re going to dive and trap and give us open shots. So any time he’s in the game, it’s a positive for us to be able to play free.”

While Kansas played free in the game’s final 10 minutes, West Virginia lost intensity, didn’t apply the same defensive pressure, left their coach wanting far more out of them.

“They just out-toughed us,” Bob Huggins said after his team couldn’t hold a 12-point lead in the final 12-and-a-half minutes. “They just wanted it more than we did.”

West Virginia made just 5 of 27 3-point shots and Huggins was more upset with the latter half of that stat than with the lack of accuracy.

“I think all those 3-point shots honestly is a lack of toughness,” Huggins said. “That’s the easy way out. You get a little pressure so you start kicking your leg out and shooting 3s.”

Kansas won a game without shooting well from beyond the arc (.348) and the more minutes Azubuike can play and the more he improves, the less reliant the Jayhawks will become on needing hot shooting nights.

Azubuike still has so much to smooth out in his game, but Monday counted as another important step forward for the raw talent, who helped KU stage another amazing comeback at West Virginia’s expense.

More news and notes from Kansas vs. West Virginia

By the Numbers: Kansas 71, West Virginia 66

By the Numbers: Kansas 71, West Virginia 66


Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 10 months ago

Good one, Keegan. Definitely agree with you! It's so fun watching Dok on the court. He's been improving on his rebound #s, too. His presence (with hands up high) was definitely huge factor when he stays around the rim, even he didn't get to block. He'll get more blocks once he knows how to move upward straight instead of trying to swat the ball. His footwork is getting better and quicker.

BTW, note to Newman: FEED UDOKA!!!! I repeat, FEED UDOKA!!!!

Mike Riches 4 years, 10 months ago

SDS looked completely shell-shocked in his first game on Saturday, but showed some glimpses tonight of the player he could become this year. I could see in a month from now where he could be a solid backup for Dok. Hopefully that will help smooth out the kind of scoring disparity we saw tonight with Dok on the bench...

Jack Joiner 4 years, 10 months ago

Silvio did look better. Saw some of that talent we have heard so much about. Keegan is so right. Our 14th championship goes through Dok.

Jerry Walker 4 years, 10 months ago

I have to keep reminding myself that Dok's barely 18yrs old.

Bryce Landon 4 years, 10 months ago

KU is more effective with Udoka on the court - except in crunch time, when we need to make free throws. So even though the technical foul he got in the first half was BS, I'm glad he got it, because it meant he fouled out before crunch time, and wasn't on the floor to brick free throws.

Gerry Butler 4 years, 10 months ago

You know what I saw? - - Tonight for the first time I think in a long time , hell maybe this year? - -I saw a team that really wanted it, a team that refused to give up. They really got after it on the defensive end , something that has been a problem for us most the year, I love their intensity, - Azubuike is really coming , the kid is a animal, he is doing a lot better really with his fouls - -true he fouled out in this game, but this is the first game that's happened right? - -Think back to last year if he would of been playing - -he was a foul looking for a place to happen last year. - -Tonight you could just tell they were getting after it - -loved to see Azubuilke on the floor going after a loose ball - - -Seeing SVI on the floor going after a loose ball that's what we have needed - -I'll be honest I NEVER seen this coming late. - -to think of all the other , let's be honest of all the other more talented teams we have taken to Morganville and came home with an L - -to think this year we come home with the W. - Like Bilas said thing is if you don't get KU THIS YEAR - -when will ya? - great job guys

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 10 months ago

I think someone needs to keep track of floorburns stats again.. It's about time to see those divings and bruises..!!! Let's go Jayhawk!!

Harlan Hobbs 4 years, 10 months ago

Excellent article. I would only add that, making pre-game predictions of what it takes to win is meaningless.

Everybody said that KU would have to shoot lights out to win. It just goes to show that there are so many variables that a firm recipe is not usually possible to predict.

If a coach says that "we have to play a near perfect game to win", he is putting more pressure on his team and is deflecting the team's focus from each individual play to it's overall performance.

Coach Self is a master of teaching that you "play each possession the best you can" and the rest will take care of itself.

Mike Greer 4 years, 10 months ago

Definitely a different game when Dok is on the floor. I think it got Konate's attention when what looked like another easy blocked dunk turned into a lob over his outstretched arm and a slam by Dok from the other side of the rim. After that he had to stay home when Dok was on the floor. Mitch doesn't get that kind of respect and Silvio hasn't played enough yet to get that kind of attention.

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