Coming up big: Udoka Azubuike helps Jayhawks rally past WVU

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) reaches to high five the students as he leaves the court following the Jayhawks' 77-69 win over the Mountaineers, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

After Kansas sophomore Udoka Azubuike dropped 21 points in 31 minutes to help lead the Jayhawks to a wild, 77-69, comeback victory over West Virginia on Saturday evening at Allen Fieldhouse, one of the most popular questions tossed KU's way was whether the game was the best of Azubuike's still-young career.

As is so often the case, KU coach Bill Self delivered the best answer, tying in Saturday's celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 national title team to emphasize his point.

“I told those guys, you had Shady (Darrell Arthur) in there and you had Sasha (Kaun) and you had Cole (Aldrich). Those are three pretty good bigs,” Self began, listing three of the four key big men on the 2008 team and in attendance Saturday. “And there were only a handful of games where those bigs played better than what Udoka did tonight.

“Shady getting 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds) in the national championship game still probably trumps it, but I thought Dok was pretty good.”

Here's what pretty good looked like on Saturday: Seven field goals in eight attempts. Seven free-throw makes in 10 attempts. Twenty-one points. Five rebounds. Three blocks. Two steals.

It marked just the sixth time in his KU career that Azubuike had scored 20 or more points in a single game. And it was just his fifth time playing 30 or more minutes in a game as a Jayhawk.

When Azubuike himself was asked whether it was the best game of his KU career, he repeated the question and instantly turned to his right to senior Devonte' Graham for help before attempting to answer.

When Graham chimed in, he went with a simple, “Nah,” before amending his answer upon seeing Azubuike's 70 percent shooting performance on the stat sheet.

“Were you seven for 10,” Graham asked, the pitch in his voice growing higher. “Oh, you went crazy. My boy. Hey! Looked like me. Nine of 10.”

Both answers were equal parts entertaining and comedic and provided the perfect glimpse into the 13th-ranked Jayhawks' vibe after grinding out yet another thrilling victory over a tough West Virginia team that led for 29:01 of the game, yet still exited Allen Fieldhouse with a loss and an 0-6 all-time record in KU's home venue.

As has so often been the case when these two get together, the final outcome would have been hard to predict midway through the second half.

After playing to a 34-all tie during the game's first 20 minutes, the 20th-ranked Mountaineers (19-8 overall, 8-6 Big 12) used a 10-1 run early in the second half to open up a 10-point lead that hovered around that mark for most of the second half.

WVU guard Daxter Miles Jr., who tallied a game-high 22 points, had a lot to do with that, knocking in six of nine 3-pointers, including one with just more than 14 minutes to play that hit soft off the back of the rim, bounced high into the air, came down on the front of the rim and curled in after kissing the glass.

The wild triple put West Virginia up 50-40 and immediately inspired Self to call a timeout.

Related document

Box score: Kansas 77, West Virginia 69 ( .PDF )

The Mountaineers built their double-digit lead largely with Azubuike on the bench after picking up his third foul while battling for a rebound that never came.

Self immediately took Azubuike off the floor after his third foul and did not put him back in until Miles' circus shot put the Jayhawks in a tough spot.

Instantly, Azubuike's presence could be felt, as the Jayhawks went right to him in the post for a big bucket that cut the deficit down to eight.

From there, the Jayhawks kept grinding and used tough stops on defense and timely shots on offense to build the momentum necessary to cap off another comeback.

“I don't know how many times they scored on their first shot there in the last seven or eight minutes,” Self said, praising his team's defense. “It didn't seem like much. We didn't rebound great, but were able to, possession by possession, kind of crawl our way back in.”

A 14-point comeback in the final three minutes it was not. But you never would've known that by listening to the Allen Fieldhouse crowd that Self said created as good of an atmosphere on Saturday as any in college basketball this season.

KU's final push started with 3:31 to play on a huge 3-pointer from Graham, who answered a deflating bucket by WVU's Lamont Harris. That shot — one of two makes all day from Graham — pulled the Jayhawks back within five at 66-61.

After another KU stop on defense, an attempt to draw a foul inside on Azubuike by WVU big man Sagaba Konate went unrewarded and Azubuike flushed home a wide-open dunk to pull the Jayhawks (21-6, 10-4) within three.

On the next possession, Azubuike erased a West Virginia shot attempt at the rim and that led quickly to a pitch-and-catch 3-pointer by Malik Newman from the corner that tied the game at 66 and took the roof off of the Fieldhouse.

West Virginia never led again, as the Jayhawks salted the game away with free throws from Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, four of them coming off of back-to-back technical fouls called on WVU coach Bob Huggins.

In all, the Jayhawks closed the game on a 19-3 run and that, combined with Texas Tech's loss at Baylor, pulled the Jayhawks back into a first-place tie atop the Big 12 standings with four games to go.

That fact, which was not known until long after the Jayhawks were out of the media room, only made Self's best analogy of the day all the more fitting.

Asked if he had any special message for Azubuike after the game, Self smiled and said: “I told him if I was (famed boxing referee) Mills Lane and I had him next to me, I would've raised his arm up, saying he was the champion tonight. I thought he was great. He played terrific, he had energy, he stayed out of foul trouble for the most part. That was a big-boy game for him.”

Four more games like that, and it might be all of the Jayhawks raising their hands as champions of the Big 12 for the 14th year in a row.

Next up for Kansas is a Big Monday showdown with Trae Young and Oklahoma at 8 p.m. on ESPN.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. West Virginia


By the Numbers: Kansas 77, West Virginia 69.

By the Numbers: Kansas 77, West Virginia 69.

Comments

Bryce Landon

Where do I begin?

First of all, I have not seen Kansas play with that much pride at home for most of the season. The three home games they lost, when they got down big, their body language was bad and they'd just go through the motions until the final buzzer. Not this time. Instead of pouting, they put their man pants on and out-toughed West Virginia down the stretch. They fought to protect home court. Their body language was a joy to watch. They survived a brilliant game by Daxter Miles. They didn't give up. And we still have a chance to win the Big 12.

Second, speaking of winning the Big 12, after last week's loss at Baylor, I came on here and said I was resigned to the end of the streak because Kansas had neither manpower nor willpower. The manpower part is still questionable, but they proved me wrong and showed some willpower. I was absolutely dead wrong to doubt them. So to everyone else on this board - my mouth is wide open; ram all the crow and humble pie down my esophagus that you want.

Third, they'll make a big deal for sure of the fact that we shot, what, 35 FTAs to WVU's 2. You know why? Because WVU settled for jumpers all game long. Rarely do you get to the foul line if you shoot jumpers. True, we shot a lot too, but we drove it at them all game long and wore them down. And if WVU didn't have so many bonehead turnovers, including Miles passing up a wide open 3 very late in the game to pass it inside and get it picked off, WVU might have held on and won. And oh by the way, how many fouls did WVU get away with that should have been called? The refs sucked, but they sucked against both teams.

Fourth and finally, my favorite part of the game was Bob Huggins getting two techincal fouls and getting ejected with a few seconds left in the game. That meltdown by Thuggy Bear was a symbol of WVU's meltdown. And now we know why WVU keeps losing their poise - because their coach can't keep his (bleep) together. If a team is reflective of its coach, then West Virginia is a perfect reflection of Bob Huggins.

6 months ago

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David Robinett

7 of 10

Like I said, coach knew exactly what he was doing at Oklahoma.

6 months ago

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Brad Watson

Dok.....Fantastic job...You did your Jerod Haase homework.....now bring that ultimate warrior mentality every night... and super job on the free throws...excellent....keep at it son.

6 months ago

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Brad Watson

Thats the kind of effort that it takes every night out to be a TRUE CHAMPION...so bottle it...drink it every day and read JEROD HAASES' book...Love the effort last night.

6 months ago

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Henry Joseph Hofmeister

dok is a superstar as his free throw game is coming together. teams cannot foul to stop him anymore. his turn around close flip shot is as good as a frank mason layup. if he stays one more year he will be a top pick. without danny we are still developing the bigs game quickly. i feel de sousa is coming up fast for march.

6 months ago

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Adam Tyler

"Without Danny we are still developing the bigs game quickly."

Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor - hold my beer

6 months ago

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Steve Zimmerman

Dok could even score more had Newman been more aware of where Dok was. It happens so many times. Those steals, blocks looked really good. But he still has to get better in rebounding. Guards need to cut into the lane more when the ball is in Dok's hand, he's getting better at passing, too..

Garrett played really well, too, I thought. I really like it when he plays that aggressive on offense.

6 months ago

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Tony Bandle

Random Thoughts:

1] Dammit.....Dok is playing himself right into the 2018 NBA Draft!

2] Although the foul disparity was gigantic, there were at least a half dozen more calls that Jay B said that were missed. Most of those WV fouls were legitimate fouls and wouldn't get called in Morgantown.

3] It was great to see Vick and Newman, although missing some makeable baskets, bring an all out attack mode to the game. Guys, don't stop!!!

4] I liked seeing Marcus and Malik bringing the ball up to spell Devonte.

5] For once, Allen sounded like it's old self...incredibly loud. Even the old farts were standing and cheering!

6] Thank you, Baylor. Gosh this is a tough conference!!

7] I'm pretty sure we won't be seeing Sam or Silvio any time soon unless things are really, really good or really, really bad.

8] Oklahoma is sinking but dangerous...if any of you saw Trae Young's quote on why OU is losing you'll be happy he didn't choose KU. He kind of threw everyone under the bus except for himself!

9] We can beat the Sooners in Allen...I'm not so sure about beating TT in Lubbock, however!!

10] Is it just me or would anyone else want a colonoscopy without anesthesia rather than watch hours of the Olympics of people skiing down a hill over and over and over......

6 months ago

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Craig Alexander

If Young would have come to KU, he would have never been “Given the keys” as in OU. He would have learned D and played with Graham. Self hasn’t let too many egos run rampant. Young’s early numbers would have taken a hit here but season average scoring would have been close because people couldn’t focus exclusively on him here.

6 months ago

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Dirk Medema

"I'm not so sure about beating TT in Lubbock", but weren't you also part of the crew that was sure about not being NBA draft material and the team not getting 14?

The positive side is this team has enough talent and the best coaching to be able to beat any team any where. It takes extreme intensity and focus, even in the Phog, but any team any where.

Hat tip to Bryce above for at least admitting he was wrong. It would be nice to see the crow build enough character for more fans to stick with the team while they are still practicing and working their tails off to get better.

6 months ago

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Harlan Hobbs

Again, this game was the epitome of why KU has such a strong tradition. They never give up, despite the challenges that always come with the territory.

For the second year in a row, WVU played one way for 37 minutes and then tried to sit on their lead. They lost the momentum and ultimately their nerve.

Dok was phenomenal in 31 minutes (probably his longest stint of the year), and Devonte was right there with him. Devonte again played 40 minutes, had 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists, with only 2 turnovers. Also, as a team, KU only had 8 turnovers. So much for the WVU vaunted press.

6 months ago

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Len Shaffer

Yeah, I noticed early on that KU was not turning the ball over or fouling, so I felt good about their chances even when WVU took the big lead in the second half.

6 months ago

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Yonatan Negash

Highly unlikely Dok will leave Kansas for the NBA draft this year.

This year's draft has way too many centers on the board who are rated higher than Dok.

6 months ago

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