Kansas Jayhawks senior center Udoka Azubuike has been arguably the hottest player in the country over the last week or so. After a career performance in Saturday’s KU win over Baylor, the 7-foot big man led the Jayhawks in a demolition of the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Monday night 83-58.
Over Kansas’ last two games Azubuike averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds per contest, good enough to earn him Big 12 player of the week honors. He took it another step further against Oklahoma State, scoring 19 points and grabbing 16 rebounds for his 13th double-double of the season.
He did that while taking just seven shots, making six of them, while also going 7-of-8 from the free throw line, the best effort of his career from the stripe.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton was effusive in his praise for Azubuike after the game, saying that he’d be hard pressed to find a better candidate for national player of the year awards.
He took it even further than that, too.
“If Udoka Azubuike is going to make all his free throws, they’re going to win the national championship,” Boynton said.
Boynton’s remarks were echoed by Azubuike’s Kansas teammates, who also talked about how important the senior is on both ends of the floor.
“The roll he’s on right now is crazy,” freshman guard Christian Braun said. “I would say the same thing about national player of the year.”
Jayhawks coach Bill Self was more tempered in his praise while still emphasizing how well Azubuike has played as of late. Self did go out on a limb to call Azubuike the best defensive center Kansas has had since he’s been coaching there, however.
“It’s a nice compliment, and if you look at Dok over recent games you can certainly make a case for that,” Self said. “If we win, maybe he will start getting some recognition for that.”
As for the 7-of-8 free throw effort, Self was pleased but had jokes for Azubuike as well.
“You don’t say that often, you go 7-of-8 and one is a bank and one is an air ball,” Self said.
Early in the game Oklahoma State did everything it could to neutralize Azubuike, throwing multiple bodies at him every time he touched the ball in the post. It stopped his scoring early, but allowed several open shooters on almost every possession for the Jayhawks.
Four early three pointers by Kansas kept it ahead despite a slow start across the board otherwise.
“We weren’t good early and we were ahead 12-10,” Self said. “After that we guarded them pretty well.”
Focusing attention on Azubuike isn’t a new strategy. However, it isn’t something teams have been able to do effectively with consistency. Oklahoma State was able to limit him in the first meeting between the two teams this year, but couldn’t stop him on Monday.
Part of that domination came in terms of scoring, but he was unstoppable on the glass, too. He recorded eight offensive rebounds, another new career high.
“We strategized to try to get him out of the paint,” Oklahoma State senior guard Lindy Waters III said. “He had eight offensive rebounds and that’s where he really hurt us.”
Four other Jayhawks joined Azubuike in double figures in the win. Sophomore guard Ochai Agbaji scored 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting, a stark improvement over his zero points in 39 minutes against Baylor.
Two of Agbaji’s makes were three pointers, something KU continues to need more of on offense. Self said the target for the Jayhawks is about 35% shooting from three-point range the rest of the way, which is almost exactly what they hit on Monday (10-of-28 as a team, 35.7%).
Three of the most important shooters for Kansas combined for a strong effort from long range against Oklahoma State, with Agbaji, Braun and senior guard Isaiah Moss combining to go 8-of-16 from deep. Braun finished with 10 points while Moss had nine.
The other double-figure scorers for KU were sophomore forward David McCormack with 10 and sophomore guard Devon Dotson with 13. Dotson had a bad day shooting the ball, going just 3-of-12 from the floor, but Self attributed his performance partially to intense fatigue.
“That was a more efficient win for those guys than it was a high-octane win,” Self said.
Kansas has now won 13 games in a row to improve to 14-1 in Big 12 play, half a game up on Baylor, which will host Kansas State on Tuesday. The Jayhawks will get a shot at the Wildcats this coming weekend in the first Sunflower Showdown since the infamous brawl between the two programs earlier this season. That game will tip at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.