Udoka Azubuike on his return
Kansas coach Bill Self had said Udoka Azubuike could be used in an emergency situation in the Jayhawks’ NCAA Tournament opener against Penn.
The alarm was sounded before the under-8 minute timeout Thursday. The 16th-seeded Quakers had led for all of about two minutes, and it was the sight of Azubuike moving toward the scorers’ table that elicited one of the biggest cheers to that point from the pro-KU crowd inside Intrust Bank Arena.
As the Quakers’ lead hit eight points, Self had to call a timeout to get Azubuike in.
Azubuike didn’t make the difference in the Jayhawks’ comeback, playing only three first-half minutes in their 76-60 victory, but his return after missing three Big 12 Tournament games because of a grade-one medial collateral ligament strain in his left knee gives KU a deeper lineup in Saturday’s second-round game against Seton Hall.
“I wish I played a little more,” Azubuike said, “(but) that was huge for me; that was big.”
Self said he was told by KU’s medical staff that Azubuike could only play “five to six minutes max, and not because they were scared of him injuring it. They were nervous of him having confidence to test it because he hasn’t yet.”
Self said Azubuike “didn’t move great” but hoped to have him at 80-85 percent for practice Friday.
“He needs to be out there the whole time,” Self said of practice, adding, “Hopefully he’ll have some confidence and be ready to go Saturday; we’re really going to need him on Saturday.”
Azubuike said he had to get used to his knee brace but was feeling more comfortable by the time he came out of the game. Self and Azubuike said he could have played in the second half, but it turned out that wasn’t needed.
“We spoke to the doctor; they said, 'Get in the pace of the game and see how I feel,’ ” he said. “By Saturday, if I feel better I'll play more.”
He recorded a steal and defensive rebound, even gingerly bending down to contest a loose ball in the Jayhawks’ end, mindful not to dive.
“I thought about it,” Azubuike said, adding he would have hit the floor if 100 percent. “I was like, eh, I can’t do it.”
Self laughed when recalling the dive attempt.
“He never ever does, so I don’t know why this would be different on this particular situation. I’m joking,” Self said. “When he needed to change directions I thought he was nervous to do so.”