Jayhawks’ Azubuike proving that experienced big men still have value
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Udoka Azubuike patrolled the paint with a dominating edge to help No. 4 Kansas win the Maui Invitational. Jon Teske offered a similar space-eating presence for Michigan during its unexpected title run in a loaded Battle 4 Atlantis.
The seniors showed the college basketball world not to overlook experienced big men amid all the attention on high-flying wings and sharp-shooting guards.
Entering Maui, one question about Kansas (6-1) was how well it could play with two big men on the court and Azubuike’s effectiveness against quality opponents with his shooting range limited to within a few feet of the rim.
Yet the 7-foot, 270-pound senior, when not in foul trouble, often dominated.
The highlight came against Dayton in the championship game, where Azubuike had a career-high 29 points — nine in overtime — while making 12 of 15 shots to end up as Maui’s co-most valuable player with point guard Devon Dotson.
“That’s the best 1-2 punch we have seen maybe with anybody in a while in our program,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
He was right. Throw in Dotson’s 31 points, and they formed Kansas’ highest-scoring duo in any game since January 1991 while combining to draw 17 of the Flyers’ 25 fouls.
In the Bahamas, the 7-foot-1, 265 pound Teske finished as MVP after the Wolverines (7-0) gave first-year coach Juwan Howard some early marquee wins and an expected spot in Monday’s new AP Top 25 poll.
Teske used his sturdy frame to help negate the sixth-ranked North Carolina’s typically relentless board work while also flustering 6-10 freshman Armando Bacot into an ineffective performance by denying prime post position and forcing him to shoot over Teske’s long arms.
“When I was younger, I knew my role was a backup big and just kind of go in there when it was my time and just help the team win,” Teske said. “That kind of changes as you become older as a junior and senior, and I’ve just got to lead the younger players.”