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Jayhawks survive senior night behind memorable effort from Azubuike

Kansas Jayhawks senior center Udoka Azubuike has played well to the point of Big 12 player of the year contention all season, but he may have saved his best for last on Wednesday night.

For his final home, senior night at Allen Fieldhouse, the seven-footer scored a career-high 31 points as KU knocked off TCU 75-66.

The early plan for Kansas was obvious: feeding the big man. Azubuike scored the first 10 points of the game for the Jayhawks, and only broke that streak with a crisp assist to junior guard Marcus Garrett. That was a continuation of his last game against TCU this season, when Azubuike scored 20 points and had nine dunks.

“We knew with the dominant game he had against them last time they didn’t really have an answer for him,” sophomore Devon Dotson said. “Keep feeding him, something good will come out of it.”

Azubuike finished with one of the most efficient nights of his career, going 13-of-14 from the floor en route to his career high in points. He also recorded 14 rebounds to seal his 14th double-double of the year, and he tacked on five blocked shots, the fifth time this season he’s had at least that many in a game.

He produced that much and had that much of an impact despite injuring his ankle in Saturday’s win over Kansas State, which forced him into a walking boot to start the week.

Despite the injury, Azubuike was able to dominate.

“[The] trainer said to take it easy and I wasn’t practicing that hard, so I didn’t how how I’d be today,” Azubuike said. “I was just in game mode, I wasn’t feeling much pain.”

Kansas coach Bill Self said that it took a few days for him to know if Azubuike would be able to play.

“I knew yesterday he’d probably play, but on Monday it was probably 50-50,” Self said. “Today at shootaround I knew he’d probably play pretty well.”

Azubuike’s effort through the injury wasn’t lost on his teammates, either, who reiterated his importance in earning the win.

“He’s a warrior,” Dotson said of Azubuike. “Senior night, went out with a bang. It was a special moment for him, all he’s been through. I was just happy to see and be on the court with him. And winning the title, it was a great night.”

That title Dotson mentioned is the Big 12 title, which the Jayhawks aren’t used to chasing after. Usually, it’s Kansas that is being chased for as the defending conference champs.

Earning that title was one of the main reasons why Dotson returned to KU this year after testing the NBA draft waters following his freshman season.

“That feeling, with the guys, getting the trophy and bringing it back where it belongs: Lawrence, Kansas,” Dotson said. “This is a great feeling, and it’s a special moment.”

Azubuike has now been part of three Big 12 championship teams, and he spoke on Wednesday night about winning this one was particularly meaningful to him.

“It’s a good day to be a Jayhawk,” Azubuike said. “We won, Big 12 champs, that’s my last home game at the Fieldhouse. That was good, but it was emotional, being my last game.”

Dotson and Azubuike were the top two scorers for Kansas and every one of their points was needed because TCU put up a strong fight throughout the game. The Horned Frogs led at halftime and shot the lights out early, going 9-of-15 from three-point range in the first half.

TCU senior guards Desmond Bane and Edric Dennis combined to go 9-of-11 from three to start the game.

Self said that he was pleased with how the Jayhawks competed in the second half, even with the Horned Frogs keeping it close and the big nights from Bane and Dennis.

“Even if they’re wide open you don’t go 9-of-11,” Self said. “Those two played like that we’re still right there … We played pretty well the second half, I thought.”

Those two scored a combined 29 points in the first half and added 13 in the second half.

Dotson supplemented Azubuike’s 31 points with 18 of his own. Self described the sophomore’s night as “solid,” but added “You get 18 and you’re just ‘solid,’ that’s pretty good.”

Senior guard Isaiah Moss was the other Jayhawk who was honored on Wednesday, with Self commending him for the immediate impact he’s had in a short time since transferring as a graduate from Iowa.

Moss said that celebrating a Big 12 championship was the reason he wanted to play in Lawrence.

“I feel great about it,” Moss said. “That’s what I came here for, to win.”

He finished his last game at Allen Fieldhouse with five points.

The win over TCU was the 15th in a row this season for Kansas. The Jayhawks still have a chance to win the Big 12 outright this weekend in their final regular season game, but after guaranteeing a share of the league crown Self said on Wednesday he’s as proud of this year’s team as any.

“It feels good, it’s a goal every year to try to win the league,” Self said. “It’s been kind of a long grind through the conference season … I’m really happy for our kids, they earned this one.”

Kansas will visit the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Saturday, and with a win or a Baylor loss at West Virginia it can claim the conference title outright. Self said he considered resting both Azubuike and Garrett on Saturday for the sake of their health, but that for now the two are feeling fine. Junior forward Silvio de Sousa will also be eligible to return this weekend, but Self said that his role is undefined for now.

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