Udoka Azubuike sparks KU in bounce-back win over ISU

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) bangs inside for a bucket and a foul from Iowa State forward Solomon Young (33) during the first half, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. In back is Iowa State forward Cameron Lard (2).

AMES, IOWA — Even in foul trouble, Udoka Azubuike showed exactly why he’s so hard to take off the court Tuesday night at Hilton Coliseum.

After picking up his third foul just 21 seconds into the second half of KU’s 83-77 win, it was Azubuike who dominated the ensuing action. The 7-foot, 280-pound Delta, Nigeria-native scored in the post to put KU up 11. He called for the ball again the next possession, quickly spinning past his defender and putting the ball in to keep his perfect shooting night intact at 6 for 6.

It wasn’t a perfect day for Azubuike — who scored on three straight possessions in the sequence — but it was good enough. The big man scored the first seven KU points in the first half and continued to be a force whenever he was involved on that end throughout the game.

Fortunately for the Jayhawks, they didn’t have to lean on him all night.

The first matchup between the two teams was a breakout game of sorts for Malik Newman. While the KU guard didn’t reach the 27-point total he did in that meeting, both he and a scuffling Lagerald Vick came up with key plays to spark the KU offense.

Newman scored 10 points in the first half, and could have come away with more, missing on a pair of open 3-pointers in the frame. As for Vick, he scored just three points in the first period but was more aggressive to start the second, knocking down two 3-pointers and even skying in to tip out a potential Iowa State rebound on a missed jumper by Nick Weiler-Babb.

The two players, which returned to the starting lineup together, combined for 33 points in the KU win. Azubuike led the team in points with 19 (9-for-10 shooting), while Devonte’ Graham (13 points) and Svi Mykhailiuk (10) also reached double-figures in scoring.

Here’s a quick look back at some of the action:

• The game turned when: The referees waved off Iowa State’s potential 3-pointer at the end of the first half.

As the game headed to the break, Weiler-Babb hit a deep 3-pointer to cut a five-point deficit to two. However, the referees checked the monitors and determined the shot did not count, giving the Jayhawks an extra boost headed into the half after getting a spark from an unlikely source.

Silvio De Sousa had only been used sparingly in his first few games — save for a seven-minute appearance against West Virginia. With Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot both picking up two first-half fouls, De Sousa was called on to help close out the half.

The late arrival to KU’s roster wasn’t perfect, getting targeted on defense and committing a goaltend on that end, but the Jayhawks actually extended their lead from one to five with him on the court.

Up by a point when De Sousa checked into the game, the big man scored three points and snagged three rebounds — two offensive — to help KU build a lead. His lone made basket came on a putback of one of his own misses, while he knocked down one of two shots at the line to round out his scoring.

• Offensive highlight: It wasn’t the flashiest play, but a smart one that resulted in a basket for a slumping player.

With KU down by one midway through the first half, Vick (16 points) hauled in a tip out of an offensive rebound. Vick was open for 3, but instead passed to the corner, where Newman had sprung open. Newman swung the ball right back to Vick, who set his feet and knocked down a 3-pointer.

The shot was a welcome sign for the Jayhawks, who started the game shooting 1 for 7 from 3. Mykhailiuk followed up Vick’s 3-pointer with a step-back triple at the top of the key, giving the Jayhawks a 3-point lead. At the time, it was their largest of the game.

• Defensive highlight: Newman (17 points) returned to the scene of the crime — sort of.

After coming up with a key block of Iowa State’s Donovan Jackson in the meeting between the two teams in Lawrence, it was another defensive play by the redshirt sophomore that resulted in an early KU spark.

Early in the first half, Newman guarded freshman Lindell Wigginton at the top of the key and craftily poked the ball away. He quickly snagged it around half court and sprinted to the other end, throwing down a one-handed tomahawk dunk to cut an early three-point deficit to 10-9.

• Key stat: For the first time in a long time, the Jayhawks were able to hold a decisive advantage on the offensive glass.

In the first half, KU was actually out-rebounded by the Cyclones, 18-17. Yet it was the Jayhawks who held a decisive 6-1 advantage on offensive rebounds, as well as an 8-2 lead on second chance points.

Those areas helped KU build a five-point first-half advantage despite shooting worse than 40 percent from the field while the Cyclones shot better than 50 percent. The rebounding numbers returned to normal for KU in the second half, but the Jayhawks shot a blistering 61.5 percent from the field in the period.

• Up next: The Jayhawks will return home to take on West Virginia on Saturday, Feb. 17. KU defeated the Mountaineers earlier this season, winning 71-66 in Morgantown.