In a week where Kansas was left to deal with the aftermath of a brawl that grabbed the nation’s attention, the No. 3 Jayhawks looked fatigued.
At least that was the description coach Bill Self referenced most often after Kansas claimed a win in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Now the Jayhawks (16-3, 5-1 Big 12) get virtually no rest as they return to conference play with a game Monday at Oklahoma State (10-9, 0-6) in Stillwater.
“I thought our guys played tired,” Self said. “I think this last week has kind of gotten to them from a fatigue standpoint, but we had enough to win.”
The 74-68 home win over Tennessee certainly proved how much Kansas misses its frontline depth after the suspensions of two forwards, starter David McCormack and reserve Silvio De Sousa.
McCormack must also miss the Oklahoma State game before returning, while the earliest De Sousa can return is March 7 at Texas.
Without them, senior center Udoka Azubuike became the Jayhawks’ most instrumental player, especially as someone who could attack the glass and serve as a backstop defensively.
Without him, the five-guard lineup Kansas must use is susceptible underneath on both ends. Tennessee never backed down until Azubuike’s two blocks on the same late possession sealed the outcome.
“It can be challenging because you know how much of a presence he brings out there on the court,” sophomore point guard Devon Dotson said. “He can help everybody; block shots and … even on the offensive end, if you drive, you can throw up to him and he’ll catch it.”
With 18 points and 11 rebounds, the 7-0 Azubuike recorded a double-double that included four or more blocks for the third time in seven games. His 6-for-7 shooting elevated his nation-high rate for field goal percentage to 78.1 percent.
“He had a big impact,” acknowledged sophomore guard Ochai Agbaji. “We needed him in the game.”
That could be true for everyone Self summoned. Dotson contributed 22 points against Tennessee and matched his career high of 16 attempts, while distributing seven assists. Agbaji added 16 points, including three 3-pointers.
Kansas committed its fewest turnovers (six) on the season while using its fewest players in a game (seven).
Even if the Jayhawks are short-handed, they present a stiff challenge for Oklahoma State, which is winless in Big 12 play but coming off a 73-62 win at Texas A&M that helped the conference salvage a 5-5 split in its annual January showdown with the SEC.
The Cowboys snapped a six-game losing streak, winning for the first time in 2020 behind a season-high 22 assists. They are showing signs of life offensively, shooting 41 percent from 3-point range in the last four games. They shot a season-best 55.1 percent overall at Texas A&M, leading by as many as 21 points.
Also, 6-10 Yor Anei presents a potential challenge to Azubuike after the sophomore forward contributed 11 points, nine rebounds and four blocks.
“You finally see the light,” Anei said. “You see the hard work paying off, and now we’ve just got to ride the momentum for the rest of conference play.”
Guard Lindy Waters III leads Oklahoma State in scoring at 12 points per game.
–Field Level Media