Udoka Azubuike scored only six points Monday night against Oklahoma State, but he still made as big of an impact as any other Jayhawk.
Azubuike took only four shots but was a constant force on offense. OSU was always aware of him and their number one priority seemed to be limiting his easy shots at the rim, opening up three-point shots.
He also made his presence known on defense, blocking five shots and disrupting almost every other attempt the Cowboys had in the paint. All the while, he stayed out of foul trouble in the second half, something that he had to do with KU’s depleted frontcourt depth.
Azubuike’s performance in Stillwater showed his ability to make a difference without scoring and why he is so valuable to this Kansas team.
More than ever, you can see that teams are hyper aware of Azubuike every time he enters the paint. The defense revolves around him, with big men constantly fighting to front him and opposing guards digging down to help the second he touches the ball.
All that attention hasn’t slowed Azubuike down. He’s averaging almost 13 points a game while leading the country in field goal percentage, and he’s scoring in more ways than past years. He’ll still have monster dunks each game, but he can also score over either shoulder down low.
Azubuike has also become a master at positioning in the paint. He does his work early and establishes himself deep down low, setting up an over-the-top entry pass for an easy bucket. If that pass doesn’t come, that positioning can pay off with an offensive rebound. Azubuike is currently averaging three a game, a career high.
The biggest knock offensively for Azubuike has always been free throw shooting, but even that has gotten better as of late. Azubuike is shooting almost 54 percent from the line over the last eight games, a huge improvement from years past that basically neutralizes the Poke-a-Doke strategy.
Azubuike has also vastly improved on the defensive end, mostly because of his improved mobility. He can now effortlessly switch on most opposing wings and guard until the defense resets. That was never an option in the past and Azubuike isolated at the top of the key was usually an automatic bucket for opponents.
Azubuike’s timing and shot blocking have improved as well . The big man has blocked 52 shots through 20 games this year and is quickly approaching his high season total of 60 during his sophomore year.
All of those improvements have been the result of one thing, stellar conditioning. Azubuike is in the best shape of his Kansas career and is playing almost 28 minutes per game. The increased foot speed and leaping ability have allowed him to become a defensive force. The improved endurance lets him work in the paint while opposing bigs get tired and help him keep his elbow tucked when attempting free throws, the key to his improved shooting.
All of those improvements are a testament to the work Azubuike has put in. He came to Kansas as a pudgy freshman who could barely keep up. He’ll leave KU as a true force and the most dominant player in college basketball.