It’s possible a healthy Udoka Azubuike would have given Kansas some additional options on offense during Saturday’s first loss of the season — an 80-76 setback to Arizona State that featured 30 points from Dedric Lawson and 46 from everybody else.
“I mean, we executed so poorly down the stretch, we’ve got to get the big fella back in there so that way we can run some more stuff,” KU men’s basketball coach Bill Self said after a game in which power forward Lawson hit 12 of 15 shots for 80 percent; eight other Jayhawks 15 of 50 shots for 30 percent.
It remains to be seen when 7-foot junior center Azubuike, who has missed four straight games since spraining his ankle early in a Dec. 4 win over Wofford, will return to action.
After practicing some last week, he sat on the bench in KU sweatshirt and sweat pants Saturday.
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If all goes well, and he has no setbacks, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see him play on Dec. 29 against Eastern Michigan. Self, who Thursday did not completely rule out Azubuike playing at ASU, said all along the goal is to have the big man 100 percent by the start of Big 12 play (Jan. 2 at home versus Oklahoma).
Self made it clear he wasn’t blaming No. 1-ranked KU’s first setback of the 2018-19 campaign (against 10 victories) on Azubuike’s absence. KU is 3-1 without the big man and also played 36 of 40 minutes of the win over Wofford without him.
“I mean we’re not going to make excuses. That’s not an excuse,” Self said. “We’ve been shorthanded a lot of times. The next guy up played well. I thought David (McCormack) the last few games in Doke’s absence has given us some good minutes.”
Freshman forward McCormack had four boards and two points in 11 minutes Saturday, while junior forward Mitch Lightfoot had two boards, no points, a block and turnover in eight minutes.
“I think we can go to him more,” Self added of McCormack.
The 6-foot-9 Lawson produced 30 points and 14 rebounds against the Sun Devils, but the numbers probably should have been even more impressive, Self said.
“He was terrific, there’s no question about that, but, when we’re not making shots he has got to touch it every time and we’re not (throwing it to him),” Self said. “We had some individuals that aren’t making shots and still kept shooting. Which, it’s good to have confidence and to keep firing, but not at game point, and he had to get a touch every possession and we didn’t do that.”
KU hit 7 of 28 threes, ASU 8 of 21. Lagerald Vick was 3 of 11 from three-point range, Quentin Grimes 0 of 5 and Charlie Moore 1 of 3.
“The bottom line is if he is not great, we’re going to get beat,” Self said of Lawson. “He needed to be great tonight if you don’t make shots. Seven of 28 from three is awful. And the thing is when you go 7 of 28 why do you shoot 28? Geez.
‘Just exercise enough patience to make sure he gets a chance to score. We didn’t do that. I thought the first half we did for the most part. The second half, even though we shot 14 threes the first half too (making 4; 3 of 14 second half), the second half they did a much better job getting to our shooters. We didn’t get much from beyond the arc. When you don’t do that, you have to get the ball to Dedric and have him get touches.”
On entering a three-day Christmas break with a loss, Self said: “It sucks, but the sky is not falling. We’ll break and let everybody spend some time with their families and reconvene on the 26th and hopefully get our batteries recharged. Even though there is no excuse for blowing a lead (12 points first half; seven with 4 1/2 to play) on everybody’s part — coaches, players — we have to fight harder than what we probably anticipated fighting in the nonconference. We’re a tired team so we need to get our batteries recharged.”
Self, suffice it to say, will think of this game a lot over the next few days.
“It was a game in which I think we can learn a lot from, at least I hope we can. It’s a game that I felt like, it’s Christmas and we were in the giving spirit because that was our game and we let it get away,” he said.
ASU coach pleased
ASU coach Bobby Hurley’s Arizona State Sun Devils improved to 9-2 overall. ASU entered having lost two (Vanderbilt, Nevada) of its last three games. ASU erased an 18-point deficit to win at Georgia.
“We have tough kids that have big time grit, heart and believe in themselves,” Hurley said. “They’re really confident kids. They’re as a hard-working group as I’ve ever had, and if they didn’t work that hard, they wouldn’t have the confidence to go out and do what they did tonight.
“We have high-level players. We have guys that in games like this, we’re not at a disadvantage from a talent standpoint. We have guys that can make plays. Remy (Martin, 10 points, 4-of-10 shooting) was 1-for-6 in the first half and came out and made a couple of the biggest shots in the game.
“Rob Edwards, who’s been through so much with injury stuff, he was so clutch down the stretch in making free throws and big shots (15 points, 13 second half). Zylan (Cheatham, 11 rebounds, 13 points) is always the stability. He’s like a guy that’s been through all these wars. There won’t be another guy who can guard as many guys on the floor as he can and rebound the way he does and have an overall impact on what we do.”
KU led by seven points with 4 1/2 minutes to play.
“As the game wore on, we gained more confidence to think that we should win this game,” Hurley said. “They just kept on staying in it and staying in it, and then we got our stops. Rob Edwards and Remy were huge with the shot-making late in the game. That was it.”