It’s Udoka’s world, and we’re all just living it.
In the second battle between the two best teams in the country, it was Kansas who withstood the top-ranked Baylor Bears to take the crown of “best team in college basketball.” It was a hard fought 64-61 win, and it was well-deserved.
Baylor came into the game on a 23-game win streak, having only lost their second game of the year to a Washington squad that is in last place in the Pac-12. Even that was a game in which Baylor lead basically the whole game until Washington squeaked by at the end. It was one of the flukiest results of the season, a game Baylor had no business losing, so in my mind, Baylor was essentially undefeated coming into the game against Kansas with their 13-0 record in league play. That seems crazy, because this is Scott Drew and Baylor we are talking about, and we all know Scott Drew is a boob (a wonderful chorus of ITP hosts’ words, not mine).
Kansas, likewise, boasted a strong resume coming into this game, playing the nation’s toughest strength of schedule and only dropping the first game of the year by two to Duke (a game that featured 28 KU turnovers), a one-point loss to Villanova on the road, and the much-talked-about 12 point loss to Baylor in Allen Fieldhouse. The first two losses were essentially coin flip games, so it’s hard to fault KU on those losses. This was a chance for Kansas to get a solid road win against a top-three opponent, avenge their home loss, and pull even with Baylor in the Big 12 race. They did all three in one of the best games of the year.
This game was outstanding for several reasons, and I struggled on what aspect I really wanted to focus on for this article, but I think I have to settle on the star of this game: Udoka Azubuike. Udoka was a monster this game–his best of his college career. And that came as a result of a masterful coaching decision by Bill Self.
In the first matchup between the two, Udoka struggled to get going offensively, with Baylor doubling him in the post and opting to leave Marcus Garret open on the perimeter. This, combined with poor entry passes, flustered Doke, and he finished that contest with a pedestrian six points. Baylor took a similar approach this game, but Self was ready for it. On Saturday, Self had down screens set in the middle of the court with Udoka retreating to the rim after every pick. This forced the Baylor defenders to either help with the driver–either Dotson or Garrett typically–or stay with Doke and allow the driver to get to the bucket. And KU absolutely punished Baylor with this game plan, as Udoka got dunk after dunk, caught lob after lob, and put the game on his shoulders, playing almost the whole game due to his great conditioning. I said this after the Dayton game too, but I think it was even more obvious for this game. The 36 minutes that he played was the highest total in his career.
Udoka was not going to lose this game. You could see his determination every time he touched the ball. He sprinted, blocked shots, played outstanding defense, and was rewarded with 23 points on 11-13 shooting, 19 rebounds and three blocks. It was a monster stat line in a monster situation. Also, his post game interview with Holly Rowe was excellent. Go watch it if you haven’t.
I could go on and on about Udoka, but I need to talk a little about Kansas as a whole. Kansas is the best team in the country at this point in time. Yes, Baylor, San Diego State, and Gonzaga all have better records, but KU is playing the best. And they are doing so using four guards, an idea that I had my reservations about (I wrote a whole article about it that I sort of regret now). Granted, the way KU has utilized the four guard lineup lately has been to my liking, focusing on driving and feeding Dok, as opposed to trying to shoot jump shots and threes all day (which contradicts some of my fellow writers’ thoughts). I like the high-scoring offensive games, but in a close game when every possession matters, I like the “grimy” games, as Self puts it. Against lesser teams like Iowa State and Oklahoma, sure, fire away from three. But against a powerhouse like Baylor at Waco, the better the defense, the more likely a good outcome for Kansas in my opinion.
Even if you disagree with me about the offense, it’s undeniable that KU’s defense is probably the best it’s ever been under Self, and if Udoka has that hunger to win in March that he has showed against Dayton and now Baylor, the other teams in the NCAA tournament better look out. KU is on a do-or-die mission this year with possible NCAA sanctions looming after this season, and they are the Vegas favorite to cut down the nets. Lock in.