KU's Azubuike draws early attention of all types and answers the call

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) fouls Michigan State forward Nick Ward (44) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Indianapolis. Kansas won, 92-87.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) fouls Michigan State forward Nick Ward (44) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Indianapolis. Kansas won, 92-87.

The Bankers Life Fieldhouse public address announcer, who routinely referred to Kansas junior Udoka Azubuike as “Udoka Azu-boo-koo” throughout the first half of KU’s 92-87 victory over No. 10 Michigan State, was not the only one who elected to call the KU big man by a name other than his own on Tuesday night.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo also joined in the fun.

Asked after the loss to the top-ranked Jayhawks why he elected not to foul Kansas — specifically, Azubuike, who entered the game as a career 40.7 percent free-throw shooter and 3 of 7 (42.8 percent) vs. Michigan State — Izzo pointed out, in no uncertain times, that the Spartans employed that exact game plan.

“Well, we were fouling Kansas,” Izzo began.

That’s when he, too, referenced Azubuike by a different name.

“We had some foul trouble,” he continued. “But it was a (six)-point game and we were going to try to foul, you know, Shaq. But he's got to get the ball. They were warning me about you can't just go grab him, you can't do this and that.”

“Shaq,” of course, is NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, who famously was the first player to experience teams fouling him intentionally on a regular basis in order to send him to the free-throw line.

Hack-A-Shaq was the name given to the strategy, which later was utilized on half a dozen other NBA big men, and teams first began experimenting with the Hack-A-Dok strategy at the college level last season.

During his 19-year playing career, O’Neal shot 52.7 percent from the charity stripe and never finished a season higher than 62.2 percent.

That reality, along with their mammoth size, has drawn the occasional comparison between Azubuike and O’Neal. And Izzo, like others before him, said it was in the MSU game plan to employ the strategy if necessary Tuesday night.

“When Shaq got the ball, we fouled him in the last two minutes,” said Izzo, again using the nickname for KU's big man. “But those other guys are all pretty good free-throw shooters. And, you know what, we cut it to three with 34 seconds left and we had two chances to cut it to two.”

KU coach Bill Self, who is on record saying he does not like the idea of taking his best players out of the game at the end — and said it again Tuesday night — did ultimately take Azubuike out with 19 seconds left. But he said that was for defensive purposes and had nothing to do with Azubuike’s free-throw shooting.

Regardless of how he shot at the line or what name he was called or by whom, Azubuike’s season debut featured a lot to like.

In addition to playing hungry and with more energy than he showed most of last season, Azubuike was wildly efficient on the offensive end and his KU teammates kept throwing the ball to him whenever possible.

“That’s two big bodies banging on each other (Azubuike and MSU’s Nick Ward),” Self said. “So there were no easy baskets. He didn’t get any angles. He had to score through him.”

Coming off of a record-setting field goal shooting season a year ago, the junior from Nigeria did just that, making seven of 10 shots from the floor on Tuesday while blocking four shots and drawing six fouls.

Several of his offensive post moves showed a polish that did not exist a season ago, as Azubuike scored via his signature monster slams, but also flashed a soft hook shot with both hands and used his improved footwork to get easy baskets, as well.

“He’s our first option,” Self said of Azubuike, who finished with 20 points and three rebounds. “Even though Dedric (Lawson) may lead us in scoring, everybody will tell you we want to play through Dok as much as possible. ... He scores the ball, but the thing he doesn’t do is rebound the ball like he should. But I thought he played very well.”

Comments

Joe Ross

If Kansas plays Duke in the tournament, David McCormack should get the assignment for Zion.

Why?

Well Dok is almost as heavy as Zion, but Dok is more prone to foul him.

Dedric Lawson is two inches taller than Zion and matches up athletically. But Dedric is giving up 55 pounds to Williamson, and that's just too much.

McCormack is the best combination of height, weight, and athleticism to match up against Zion. He's nearly 3 inches taller and only gives away 20 pounds. McCormack's motor can run at the same tempo as Williamson's. David should make his mark in the beginning as a defensive specialist, and his whole season getting the assignments for the strongest, biggest guys on opposing teams as practice. When and if we face the Blue Devils, we're gonna need someone to match up to Williamson.

Dedric should draw the straw for the Barrett assignment, and Dok should camp out in the lane and wait for the action to come to him. Between now and such a hypothetical meeting, Dok should be taught to jump straight up and not foul. He draws too many.

Last season we had the weight of a streak on us. The focus should change this year, and prepare as if every game is a practice for Duke. Undefeated is achievable for them this year.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Steve Zimmerman

"Dedric Lawson is two inches taller than Zion and matches up athletically." === LOL.. seriously?
<p>"McCormack's motor can run at the same tempo as Williamson's" === Not enough. Zion can just twitch his head, then pooof.. Duke creates spacing for him - one way to contain him is not to let him dribble to the basket. I'm afraid we don't have a guy who can match up for Zion. It'll take 2 guys to keep him away from the basket. That's a big risk - zone is the only way to beat the Dookies, IMHO.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Shannon Gustafson

Dedric is one of the least athletic D1 players, Zion is the most athletic. They couldn't be much farther apart in that regard.

Silvio would be my vote for Zion (if he's available) but we'll see where David is at the end of the year, clearly Silvio is much better "right now" but Silvio was no good his first 5+ games last year either.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Joe Ross

And pardon me for saying so, but Tom should have gotten his own video with highlights of his career at the LJW. You guys do good stuff, but this goodbye feels kind of unceremonious.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Matt Tait

As you know, Joe, Tom's not a big rah rah, look-at-me kind of guy. He's a grinder. A guy who prefers to let his work speak for him and to get up and do more of it the next day. He didn't want a party or some grand farewell. I admire that.

But I did want to make sure we touched on his departure a bit in our last video together. I always enjoyed doing those and forever will appreciate the chemistry we had.

We were lucky to have him, as a sports department, a town and a newspaper and we will definitely miss him, his wit and his willingness and ability to always call it like he saw it.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Joe Ross

Well it was fitting in at least one sense, I suppose. I mean it WAS the Champions' Classic. Tom is each part of the term...

Best wishes, Tom!

1 week, 3 days ago

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Steve Zimmerman

Amen to that!

1 week, 3 days ago

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Dirk Medema

It's just one game but on a foul per minute basis was David pretty proficient?

I was also impressed with Dok's block in the second half (?3 of 4 in the first?) when he stood his ground and went straight up for the block on a drive to the basket. It is nice to see him continue to develop his game.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Joe Ross

It's not just one game, it's also the very first official game in his career. Against the 10th ranked team in the nation.

You can't expect proficiency in those conditions. The game will come to him.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Dan Burns

Hey Matt, I can't find a "Contact Us" on the KU Sports page so I'm sending you this notification. I run a KU Facebook page with over 20K followers and KUSports needs to know about this warning popping up.

http://www2.kusports.com/users/photos...

1 week, 3 days ago

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Shannon Gustafson

It's because they haven't added a secure SSL certificate to this domain.

1 week, 1 day ago

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Sam Denny

I've been reading Kusports and LJW articles since about the age of 5 or 6. My parents met at KU, and moved to Texas as soon as I was born. I'm 26 now, and to watch the video at the end almost brought tears to my eyes. I wish Tom nothing but the best! Each article I have ever had the pleasure of reading, no matter the author, has always resonated with me since I've never had the opportunity to experience the beautiful town of Lawrence. These articles, kusports as a site, and last but not least the authors hold a very special place in my heart. Both of my parents would even talk about reading Tom's articles before I was born. I guess what I'm ultimately trying to say is that I can't express my appreciation and love for everything that this wonderful site has provided me. From early mornings checking to see about any updates, post game interviews, live updates on games only featured on the Jayhawk network, and the fantastic work done by each author. Thank you for providing me a medium to feel even more connected to the best fan base in the nation! Rock Chalk, Tom! ROCK CHALK!

1 week, 2 days ago

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