Jayhawks find success feeding Azubuike in the post

According to his coach, Udoka Azubuike (35) played the best game of his career in the Jayhawks' narrow win over Nebraska.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

LAWRENCE, Kan. — The funk Kansas had been in was reflected by its drop from No. 2 to No. 13 in the Associated Press poll.

It could be worse. The Jayhawks were in jeopardy of losing a third straight nonconference game for the first time under their 15th-year coach, Bill Self, but pulled out a 73-72 squeaker at Nebraska.

Coming off that emotional finish, which included a go-ahead 3-pointer by senior guard Svi Mykhailiuk and a game-clinching block by sophomore center Udoka Azubuike inside the final minute, Kansas (8-2) returns home Monday to face Omaha (3-10) in Allen Fieldhouse.

“We’re going to have more road games like that in even crazier environments,” said Kansas senior point guard Devonte’ Graham, “so we’re just glad we got the win.”

The Jayhawks may have discovered one particular solution on offense. They made a conscientious effort to feed Azubuike in the post and he responded with 26 points while adding 10 rebounds against Nebraska.

While going 13 of 17, Azubuike continued to struggle at protecting the rim before swatting away a shot in the lane under the 10-second mark. He then retrieved the ball in the corner and lobbed a high pass downcourt to help kill the final seconds.

“Dok played great,” Self said. “That was the best game Dok’s played since he’s been here. He was active. He rebounded the ball pretty well on both ends, and then the play he made at the end there late was terrific. And to have the wherewithal to throw it to the other end was smart, too, because I’m sure they were yelling, ‘Foul him!’ ”

Such defensive tactics are something Kansas is well aware of considering Azubuike is shooting only 42.9 percent from the foul line, going 9 of 21.

“Dok is never going to be a guy who makes a lot of free throws or shoots 80 percent from the line,” Self said. “With that being said, this is what’s frustrating to me is, how many fouls has Dok drawn?

“He’s shot 21 free throws. He’s the biggest man on the planet, strong, he’s athletic, but he doesn’t get anybody to foul him. Even though he’s not a great free-throw shooter, he’ll be much better shooting eight a game as opposed to two a game. That puts the other team’s big guy in foul trouble.”

From the field, Azubuike is shooting 78 percent, the nation’s best mark.

“He’s just a monster and he’s hard to stop. When he’s got his mind right, that dude is really good,” said sophomore Mitch Lightfoot, who at 6-foot-8 has played the role of Azubuike’s backup with Kansas still awaiting word from the NCAA on the eligibility of freshman forward Billy Preston.

Omaha is making a quick turnaround following a 99-58 win Sunday over Cornell College, a Division III program. The victory was the second straight for the Mavericks, who reached the finals of the Summit League Tournament last season after completing their transition into Division I in 2015-16.

Junior guard Zach Jackson leads Omaha with a 17.5-point average and paced the Mavericks in scoring for six straight games before posting 18 points and 14 rebounds against Cornell College. Omaha was coming off a 77-74 win over Arkansas State.