Kansas junior center Udoka Azubuike wore a boot on his right foot and walked with the use of crutches on Wednesday — the day after the 7-footer suffered a severely sprained ankle in the first half of the Jayhawks’ 72-47 win over Wofford at Allen Fieldhouse.
“He had a great attitude today. For a guy who got hurt and heard news he might not play for a few games, he had a great attitude,” KU assistant coach Kurtis Townsend said while subbing for head coach Bill Self Wednesday on Self’s weekly Hawk Talk radio show. Self was on the road recruiting.
“I think your attitude is as much a part of rehabbing and how you go about it, not feeling sorry for yourself. I think Doke’s mindset will be right. He’ll get back as soon as he can,” Townsend said.
Townsend said he learned Wednesday from KU’s medical staff that, “it’s a bad sprain. He didn’t tear anything in there which is really good news. But he is in a boot and on crutches. You don’t know how it’s going to heal. He’ll be out.”
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How long is the question …
“He definitely won’t play this weekend (against New Mexico State, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Sprint Center),” Townsend said. “Then I doubt if he’ll play the following weekend against Villanova (11 a.m., Dec. 15, Allen Fieldhouse). It just depends how he rehabs. The good news is it’s not broken. We’ll get him back hopefully quickly,” Townsend added.
KU has five nonconference games to play in the next 23 days. The Big 12 opener is against Oklahoma on Jan. 2 at Allen Fieldhouse.
“That’d be great if we can (get him back for start of Big 12 play),” Townsend said on Hawk Talk. “We won’t chance it. If he is not 100 percent, there’s no sense in bringing him back.
“This is a great time, because next Monday starts finals week. After Saturday’s game we get a week off before we play again,” Townsend said. “After that game (against Villanova) we’ll play a mid-week game (Dec. 18 vs. South Dakota), then go down and play at Arizona State (Dec. 22) and get another week off (before Dec. 29 home game against Eastern Michigan).
“Doke wouldn’t have to miss as many games as if if we were in the league playing two games a week. There’s no great time for a guy to get hurt but at least we’ll have some time off that he can heal,” Townsend added, stressing the big man will return only when it’s safe to do so.
“Doke is a tough kid. He’ll do whatever it takes rehab wise to get back as soon as he can. But I think he knows he has a future in the game so he won’t do anything to come back before it’s too soon, either,” Townsend said.
Azubuike — he grabbed four rebounds in four minutes played the first half — went down under the defensive goal with 11:38 remaining and KU up, 13-12, versus Wofford. He twisted the ankle after trying to block the shot of Nathan Hoover, who scored on the play.
Azubuike was helped off the court to the locker room, putting no weight on his right foot or leg as he exited. Self said initially he was told it was a “high ankle sprain,” but after the game he removed that designation, saying merely that he “rolled it” and would be out indefinitely.
Self also said 6-5 sophomore Marcus Garrett, who had seven points and seven boards in 30 minutes Tuesday, would be starting at the 4-spot against New Mexico State with Dedric Lawson playing the 5. Also, freshman forwards David McCormack (six points, three boards, five minutes Tuesday) and Mitch Lightfoot (two boards, six minutes) could likely see more playing time, as could guard K.J. Lawson.
“I think he (Garrett) can guard 1 through 5,” Townsend said Wednesday. “That was their 5-man (6-foot-8 Cameron Jackson, 15 points, 10 boards) coach put him on (during KU’s pivotal 27-0 run Tuesday). Coach asked him, ‘Can you guard that kid?’ Marcus said, ‘Yeah I can guard him.’ The game changed when he started guarding him. We got our hands on the ball.”
Said Townsend: “K.J. Lawson (6-8 sophomore, five points, three assists, 17 minutes) has done pretty well. He played well the first half at the 4-spot. I think we’ll see a lot more of that with Doke out. I think you’ll see a lot more small ball. We can still go big and play David and Dedric together; David and Mitch; Mitch and Dedric.”
McCormack was inserted in the lineup after Azubuike went down. He immediately scored via a vicious dunk.
“Mitch and David are going to get more minutes. They’ll have to,” Townsend said. “Dedric will get tired. He has to have a sub, too. If he ever gets two early ones (fouls) in a half, even though he might be able to play with two, you’ll have to play those other guys. They’ll do a good job.”
Defense accepts coach’s challenge
Townsend said KU’s players accepted a challenge from Self to play better defense against the three on Tuesday. Stanford hit 12 of 34 threes in KU’s overtime win on Saturday. Wofford on Tuesday missed 21 of 26 threes. Sharpshooter Fletcher Magee went 0-for-9 from three.
“The guys were focused,” Townsend said. “Coach got on them Sunday about how bad we were defensively. They took it to heart and were good defensively for 40 minutes last night.”
Vick goes scoreless
Lagerald Vick did not score in 22 minutes. He did not start for the first time this season after showing up 20 minutes late for shootaround Tuesday.
“He probably felt he let the team down a little bit,” Townsend said. “It’s good to learn a lesson and still come out on top. It let the other guys know, ‘here’s the guy carrying us (have off night). If we do what we’re supposed to do, we can still be a good team.’’’
Self has said Vick will definitely start against New Mexico State.
“He’s been great. He has built up some equity this year in how he’s handled everything,” Townsend said. “He’ll be fine. It was a little blip and a great lesson to learn early in the year.”