Azubuike's new free throw form a step in the right direction
KU fans dying to see the new and improved free throw form developed by KU big man Udoka Azubuike that came as a result of an 0-for-6 night at the line in a losing effort at last week at Oklahoma finally got their chance to see it live during Monday's 70-56 win at Kansas State.
Azubuike, who entered Monday as a 37.5 percent free throw shooter, did not attempt a single free throw in KU's win over Texas A&M last weekend, leaving both lingering questions about the big man's shot and more time for him to work on it.
The result of that hard work — which included one-on-one time with KU coach Bill Self and, according to teammate Mitch Lightfoot, “lots of free throws,” — was on display Monday night — both before and during the game — and Azubuike, though far from perfect, knocked in two of the five free throws he attempted in the win over K-State.
Instead of shooting his free throws with the ball off to the left of his head and his right elbow cocked way out wide to the right, Azubuike's new form featured the ball directly in front of his face and his right elbow tucked tighter to his body.
That 2-of-5 performance Monday night — which actually was 2-of-6 because the Wildcats were whistled for a lane violation on one of the misses and Azubuike followed that up by missing the third try — included one trip late when Azubuike made both attempts, which sent the small contingent of KU fans behind the Kansas bench into a frenzy.
“The last two looked good,” Self said. “I thought the first one looked good. I don't know that two and three looked great, but it was nice for him to make a couple.”
Added Lightfoot: “It's great for his confidence because confidence is everything when it comes to the free throw line. He's been shooting the ball really well in practice from the free throw line. He leaves practice to go shoot free throws for a while and he's just really getting his stroke. Hats off to him. I know the big fella can shoot them. I've seen him shoot them. I've sat there and rebounded for him and he can make them. He's changed (his shot) a little bit to where he keeps it in front of his face more and I think that's done wonders for him.”
What's more, the change could do wonders for Kansas. Had Azubuike made 2-of-5 in the loss to Oklahoma, that easily could have been a win. And if he's able to shoot 2-of-5 or better the rest of the way, it may turn opponents off on the idea of employing the Hack-a-Dok strategy that the Sooners used.
K-State coach Bruce Weber said the Wildcats planned to foul Azubuike in a similar manner but were told by officials before the game that any intentional fouls needed to be in the flow of the action or else they would be called as flagrant, which would have given KU two free throws and possession of the ball.
Regardless of Azubuike's numbers — the 2-of-5 mark pushed his percentage up ever so slightly from .375 to .377 — or their impact on Monday's game, Azubuike's teammates seemed most pleased to see good things happening for the sophomore center again.
“It was just great to see someone who worked so hard after that tough game at OU, work on his free throws, make them look a little prettier, which it does now, and knock them down,” Lightfoot said. “It was just great.”