LAWRENCE — It’s doubtful Udoka Azubuike’s stat line Saturday blew anyone away.
Still, there were at least two aspects of the Kansas basketball senior center’s afternoon in the 67-55 defeat to No. 4-ranked Baylor that head coach Bill Self felt noteworthy.
Azubuike finished with six points on 3-for-6 shooting, adding 11 rebounds and seven blocked shots in 31 minutes for the No. 3 Jayhawks (12-3, 2-1), who lost to the Bears for the first time in 18 all-time matchups in Lawrence. Scoring aside, Self felt his 7-footer accounted well for himself for most of the game on the other end of the court.
“I actually thought Doke was decent defensively,” Self said. “Protecting the rim, I thought he was pretty good. At the end, he got tired and gave up a couple that he obviously shouldn’t. (Freddie) Gillespie scored like eight points (in the final 10 minutes) because (Mark) Vital gave him two layups or two short jumpers. We guarded at the end terrible after we got pretty fatigued. But I thought Doke played OK.”
Azubuike’s outing on the other side of the ball, then, is more troublesome moving forward, though Self stressed that onlookers shouldn’t lay that entirely at the feet of the Delta, Nigeria, native.
“I thought our passing to Doke was atrocious,” said Self, whose Jayhawks committed 14 turnovers in the defeat. “We’ve got to become better passers. I mean, Doke had an uncontested dunk in the first half (and) we throw it into the backboard. I mean, uncontested on our little staple play that we always run. And certainly Ochai (Agbaji) made a good pass to him in the first half over the top and (Azubuike) went after it with one hand and they got that ball. That should’ve been a dunk. ...
“So some of it’s on Doke, but a lot of it’s on the perimeter players just having the confidence to throw it to him, because I actually thought he played OK. I didn’t think that the reason why we were poor defensively or offensively today would really be because of Doke. I think it was more because their guards totally dominated the game.”
Indeed, Baylor fronted on Azubuike the entire afternoon, and KU’s guards were simply unable to get it over the top of the Bear defenders and into the hands of the nation’s leader in field goal percentage (78.3%). Marcus Garrett finished with four turnovers, Agbaji three and Devon Dotson and Isaiah Moss two apiece in the defeat.
Jared Butler (22 points), MaCio Teague (16) and Davion Mitchell (10) combined for seven assists versus just two turnovers.
"I felt like today that you have three guards out there (for Baylor) that can all just put everybody basically away from the ball and put you basically in a situation where they force help or they shoot over you," Self said. "Butler, we won’t guard anybody this year that’s any harder to guard than him."
Azubuike, who has been forced into more of a facilitator role over the last several weeks with teams trapping him in the post, is averaging just 9.3 points across the Jayhawks’ last six games after reaching double-figure scoring in the eight games prior.
“We need to have guys step up and make plays,” Self said. “You know, so much of our stuff is predicated on forcing help, and we didn’t ever force help (Saturday), it didn’t seem like. They were able to stay in front of our guards. And so you’ve got to make somebody pay when you play four guards and they’re only guarding three of ’em real hard, and we didn’t do that. ...
“Against good teams, you’re not going to score on the first side or the second side a lot of times. I mean, that’s a really good team. Our ball and body movement was awful. So a guy catches it, he shoots it or he passes it or he drives it. He can’t hold it and bounce it and pick it up. There was just no rhythm or whatever offensively at all. It was disappointing.”
Dotson (hip pointer, day-to-day) and Agbaji went a combined 1-for-5 from 3-point range, while Garrett made 1 of 2. More concerning than the shooting from beyond the arc, though, was an inability by the trio to score at the rim, a skillset that KU flashed in its 60-53 victory over then-No. 16 West Virginia on Jan. 4.
“We didn’t ever do that this game,” said Self, whose team was outscored 28-26 in points in the paint Saturday. “We couldn’t ever get around them. And then when Dot went out and Marcus isn’t healthy, of course that makes it obviously look worse than it was even though it was pretty ugly.”