Kansas center Udoka Azubuike has made 6 of 12 free throws over the last three games since totally revamping his free-throw shooting form.
“It’s getting better,” Azubuike, a 7-foot sophomore from Nigeria, said of his performance at the line. He was speaking Saturday after making 4 of 7 in an 84-79 loss to Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse. “I’m working on it every day. I shoot a lot of free throws. I feel I’m getting better. I’m taking a step.”
Azubuike’s 1 of 8 performance in a Jan. 23 loss at Oklahoma — one in which he bricked six free throws without a make during crunch time when the Sooners fouled him on purpose —necessitated drastic measures in the practice gym.
“I had to change everything about my form — my legs, elbows, all that stuff, the way I position myself to shoot,” said Azubuike, who has made 30 of 76 free throws for 39.5 percent on the season. “I had to change everything about my shot.”
Since the Oklahoma game, he attempted zero free throws in a 79-68 home victory over Texas A&M, hit 2 of 5 in a 70-56 victory at Kansas State, then made his first four free throws before missing his final three Saturday in the shocking home loss to Oklahoma State.
“Right now, not 100 percent,” an honest Azubuike said, when asked if he’s comfortable at the free-throw line. “It’s still a little bit (off). That’s why I practice. I keep practicing it.”
Azubuike, who averages 13.8 points and 7.3 rebounds a game, scored 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed five rebounds in Saturday’s loss. His overall shooting percentage from the field stands at a nation’s best 76.2 percent.
“I just believe in my ability,” Azubuike said. “Every night I go out there and try to do my part.”
He acknowledges the fact he needs to improve his work on the boards.
Oklahoma State outrebounded KU, 41-28.
“They went to the glass and rebounded the ball. They went after the ball,” Azubuike said. “We let them run to the ball and do anything they wanted. As a team we’ve got to find our man and box him out. Everybody’s got to do their job.”
The Jayhawks, who have lost two Big 12 home games, will enter Tuesday’s 8 p.m. game against TCU tied with Texas Tech for first place in the conference at 7-3. Oklahoma and West Virginia are a game back at 6-4, Kansas State and Texas are 5-5, TCU and Oklahoma State are 4-6 and Baylor and Iowa State are 3-7.
“We’re not used to losing at home,” Azubuike said. “That has been history. That has been proved. This year it’s kind of surprising. We’ve got to keep working, get it back.”
Kansas has lost three games in a single season at Allen Fieldhouse (Texas Tech, Arizona State, Oklahoma State) for the first time since 1998-99. The Jayhawks have dropped two home games in league play for the first time since that same season. KU last lost four home games in the 1988-89 season, and all of those home losses were league contests.
“This year we have been great on the road,” sophomore guard Malik Newman said of the Jayhawks, who are 3-2 at home and 4-1 on the road in league action. “We found a way when it looked like no way. We win in tough environments. We come here and are lackadaisical. We don’t have the same energy. We have to find a way to turn it around, to play like we’re on the road.”
Senior Devonté Graham can’t explain the home/road discrepancy in KU’s play.
“I have no idea. We keep saying maybe we get a little lazy here,” Graham said, “expecting to win automatically. Like when we go on the road super-focused. Teams come in here focused like we do. We’ve got to lock in and get off to better starts like they did today.”
Newman said Self “was upset,” after the Oklahoma State game.
“I think he had every bit to be upset,” Newman said. “We didn’t come out and play Kansas basketball. We weren’t aggressive. We didn’t listen to the scouting report. We didn’t execute our offense. He had every right to be upset.”
Saturday night banquet
About 200 former KU players, coaches, staff members and their guests attended a Saturday night banquet at the Jayhawk Club in West Lawrence as part of the school’s 120 Years of Basketball reunion weekend.
Self and former coaches Larry Brown and Ted Owens were speakers at the dinner.
Self mentioned former Jayhawks Bill Hougland, Clyde Lovellette, Al Kelley, Dean Smith and Jo Jo White among others during his talk.
“To think about those guys and think about so many more that have given so much to this place that were taken from us in recent memory, I think should give us all a sense of pride and make these five-year increments even that much more special,” Self said of reunions held every five years at KU.
“From my team’s hearts and our staff’s hearts, please understand the value and how important it is for all you to come back tonight. 120 years is a long time. And I’m very proud to be the caretaker of that 120-year journey.”