Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Notebook: Udoka Azubuike misses late free throws in win over MSU

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) dunks in front of Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Indianapolis.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) dunks in front of Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Indianapolis.


Indianapolis — It took until a Big 12 Conference game after the first of the year last season for Kansas coach Bill Self to be faced with the kind of dilemma he saw in Game 1 of the 2018-19 season on Tuesday night.

With No. 1 Kansas clinging to a single-digit lead that was dwindling against No. 10 Michigan State in the Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Spartans purposely started fouling Kansas junior Udoka Azubuike, a notoriously poor free-throw shooter.

The strategy worked — at least in theory — and Azubuike missed three of the four foul shots he attempted in the final minutes of KU’s 92-87 victory.

But the decision by MSU coach Tom Izzo to employ the popular Hack-A-Dok strategy gave Self an opportunity to show his hand early in the season and the KU coach does not plan on changing things any time soon.

“We’re going to keep going with him,” Self said. “If you watched him last year, they had no chance. Tonight’s actually had a chance. They were pretty soft and he shot them in pressure moments. He’ll continue to get better at that and we’re not going to sub for him very often in that situation.”

Asked about the decision to leave Azubuike on the floor late, Self reiterated that he never has been a fan of taking his best players out of the game. And he was pleased with the way KU executed its offense to get the ball to Azubuike in those clutch moments.

“Even though he missed both free throws late, you run the clock down, you get it to four seconds and you get fouled,” Self said. “You can’t run better offense than that.”

Azubuike did come out after a pair of misses that allowed Michigan State to cut the Kansas lead to one possession (90-87) with 35 seconds to play. But Self said that was more about defensive assignments.

“I only took him out because we were switching ball screens,” Self said. “It didn’t have anything to do with free throws.”

Ochai redshirts

Kansas freshman Ochai Agbaji, who Self revealed Monday plans to redshirt the season, was in Indianapolis and participated in KU’s walk-through early Tuesday, but did not suit up for Tuesday’s game.

He was joined in street clothes by sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa, who remains out while KU awaits word on his status in the wake of the recent college basketball corruption trial.

Agbaji, a talented guard from Kansas City, Mo., appears to be a victim of KU’s perimeter depth and freshman point guard Devon Dotson said he thought Agbaji made a quality decision.

“I’m excited,” Dotson said. “He’s a great kid and he’ll be OK with anything that happens. He’s just that kind of a kid, a hard worker and a great teammate.”

Starting five

The Jayhawks opened the regular season the same way they opened exhibition play on Oct. 25, with veterans Lagerald Vick, Dedric Lawson and Azubuike starting alongside freshmen guards Dotson and Quentin Grimes.

Four of those five topped 30 minutes, with only Azubuike playing 20 minutes. Sophomores Marcus Garrett (14) and Charlie Moore (10) led KU’s bench in minutes played.

Faces in the crowd

In addition to the usual suspects who support Kansas basketball at home, on the road and wherever else the Jayhawks may roam, there were a few notable faces in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd on Tuesday night.

Former KU players Tyler Self, Niko Roberts and Eric Chenowith sat with the KU crowd to support this year’s squad. And former Jayhawk Joel Embiid, who, now in his third season playing with the Philadelphia 76ers is among the most popular players in the NBA, sat courtside across the team benches.

Dotson, who had not met Embiid before Tuesday night, said Embiid spoke to the team after the victory.

“He came to the locker room, spoke a few words to us,” Dotson said. “He’s a social media icon, funny guy, charismatic, so it was cool. He was saying he was going to follow us throughout the season and offer support whenever we need any advice or encouragement.”

New Kansas Athletic Director Jeff Long, who has his hands full with the start of a KU football coaching search at the moment, also made the trip north to Indianapolis for his first official game with Kansas basketball.

Vitale begins 40th year

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale, who called Tuesday’s KU-Michigan State game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, now officially has kicked off his 40th season as a broadcaster.

Vitale, the booming and boisterous former coach who is among the biggest ambassadors of college basketball, was busy hyping up both his first game of Year 40 and the official start of the 2018-19 college basketball season throughout the past few days on Twitter.

There was a little symmetry involved with Vitale’s call on Tuesday night. His first broadcast for ESPN, which he called “ESPN’s first big game,” came on Dec. 5, 1979, and featured No. 1 DePaul vs. Wisconsin, just like another No. 1, Kansas, took on a team from the Big Ten team on Tuesday night.

Champions Classic extended

KU’s win on Tuesday night improved the Jayhawks’ record to 4-4 in the early-season showcase, and it appears there is still plenty of time ahead to improve upon that record.

Reports Monday indicated that the Champions Classic has been extended through at least 2022, and the event will remain in the three cities it has most recently called home.

Next season, KU will return to New York to face Duke and the Jayhawks and Blue Devils will return to Indianapolis in 2022 to face each other. In between those dates, KU will play Kentucky in Chicago in 2020 and Michigan State in New York in 2021.

This and that ...

KU now has won three consecutive games in the Champions Classic, evening its overall record in the event at 4-4. ... Tuesday’s victory was the first in the event against Michigan State. ... Kansas is 1-0 for the 15th time in Self’s 16 seasons in charge. ... KU is now 22-10 all-time as the No. 1 team in The Associated Press’ Top 25 poll and 12-3 in the top spot since 2010. ... Self is now 448-96 all-time at Kansas, 655-201 in his career and 7-7 against Michigan State. ... The win pushed KU’s all-time record to 2,249-849.


Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 1 month ago

Dok looked really good tonight. He continues to be a dangerous presence down low with the drop-step, hook shots. Also, it's a good thing we have shooters spread out. Even if Dok got double-teamed, we have answer for that. If he can give us 3-4 blocks each game like he did tonight, that would be awesome, too! Keep it up, Yung Dok! Looking forward to see more pick & roll like Lawson to Dok seen tonight!

Edward Daub 4 years, 1 month ago

The phrase "Pok-a-Dok" has a better rhythm to it!

Bill is rolling the dice keeping his best players on the floor in the final minute.

Conventional wisdom is to utilize the best free throw shooters on offense down the stretch, while maintaining defensive balance. In Self We Trust!

Brad Watson 4 years, 1 month ago

Typical first game...a lot of things to clean up...Doks' problem is mental...its hard to shoot free throws in front of thousands and with everyone putting ONLY his free throw shooting under a is what it is...he will always struggle with it...he does so many other things WELL...I am just going to forget about it and never mention it again..he is a great kid and really fun to watch his development...his development reminds me of Akeem back in the 80' much raw good will he be 5 years from guess is..he will be a huge star in the league.

Bryce Landon 4 years, 1 month ago

More free throw practice for Udoka! He started off well, but then it seemed he backslid into his old habits again.

Michael Maris 4 years, 1 month ago

I would say that Dok was feeling the pressure of making free throws at the end of the game (when the Spartans were closing the scoring gap). His last 3 free throw attempts were the same repetitive shot that he was using in the beginning of the game.

Bryce Landon 4 years, 1 month ago

Also, I didn't realize Dickie V had been calling games for so long. I knew it had been at least since the late 1980s - he called a December 1987 game between Kansas and North Carolina State for ABC Sports, but I didn't realize it had been forty years. I wonder how long it will be before he decides to call it a career. Does he give more love to certain teams than others? Sometimes. Does he spend time talking about teams not playing the game he is calling? Yes, but it seems every TV sportscaster these days does that. Personally, I'm glad to have Dick Vitale calling games; it means we're on the big stage!

P.S. When I was in Louisville, I met Vitale once at a book-signing event at a Kroger and got a photo with him. He didn't say much because he was saving his voice for the Duke-Louisville game he was going to call the next day, but hey, it's not every day I get to meet a celebrity!

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 1 month ago

Good God on 40 years of Vitale. He is still a great ambassador for college ball but the shtick gets old.

Robert Brock 4 years, 1 month ago

Udoka Azubuike managed to haul down THREE rebounds? The NBA scouts are not gonna be impressed with that.

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 1 month ago

Good call. It's crowded under the basket. We've got Lawson whose got length, too. Dok needs to seal his defender better. But i'm impressed with his progress in challenging shots & reflexes to block without being called for fouls. That's something that NBA scouts will definitely keep in minds.

Shannon Gustafson 4 years, 1 month ago

If you go back and watch, Lawson stole a number of rebounds from him while Dok was boxing out his man. That's a "team" rebound that goes to Lawson that was produced by Dok's good boxing out.

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 1 month ago

You have better observation than I do. They should have a stat for assisting rebounds, then. I remember, he also was active at the other side of the court, leading to Grimes' 3pt.

Shannon Gustafson 4 years, 1 month ago

Yes, I'd imagine this will eventually be an advanced stat if it's not already.

John Strayer 4 years, 1 month ago

It does look like Dok's free throw mechanics are improved over last year. However, looks like he still needs to work on the part that is between his ears. All the sudden at the end as the pressure increased, he just looked like he didn't want to be at the stripe.

Shannon Gustafson 4 years, 1 month ago

It is mental now, however the whole team shot poorly down the stretch from the field and the free throw line so I wouldn't put it all on him. He was closer to his average than the others.

Barry Weiss 4 years, 1 month ago

It is surprising how Dedric pulled down 14 rebounds to Dok's 3. I still think Self will pull Dok earlier at the two minute mark if the game is closer. Last night I think the spread gave coach the ability to stay wit Dok longer. Now we have some bigs to fill in as opposed to last year.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 1 month ago

Several came from his own misses which is a good thing in that he didn't give up after a miss.

Shannon Gustafson 4 years, 1 month ago

Several more came from Dok blocking out his man and Lawson swooping in right in front of Dok to steal it from him as well.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 1 month ago

One good half and a not so good 2nd. That is reminiscent of last years team. Still, an extremely small sample to make ANY conclusions.

Wouldn't be surprised to see McCormick play more at the end of a close game.

Puke looked phenomenal in their beatdown of UK.

Ray Winger 4 years, 1 month ago

ADVISE: Shoot with 4 fingered hand. Your hand is too big, baseball players throw with two fingers, you wouldn't throw a wadded paper ball all fingers . just tuck the fifth away like a baseball player and shoot with the remaining fingers, smaller hand

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