In scanning lists of statistical leaders, the name Udoka Azubuike may not reach your eyes very often. His stat line isn’t gaudy, and due to a talented array of shooters in the Kansas lineup, he isn’t always the go-to guy for the Jayhawks. But Azubuike, a 7’0 center from Nigeria, can take over games in ways that go well beyond the box score.
Take the Jayhawks’ Big 12/SEC challenge game against Tennessee. As the Volunteers repeatedly tried to make a comeback, Kansas responded with consistent feeds to Azubuike in the paint, who dunked with little effort over his defenders, spurring on the home crowd and energizing his teammates. At one point, Tennessee collapsed so hard, selling out for the pass to Azubuike, that Kansas kicked it out for an easy three. While the play doesn’t show up on the senior center’s stat sheet, it was his impact that gifted the Jayhawks the open look. Overall, Azubuike poured in 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, for one of his ten double-doubles on the season.
Azubuike is known to get into foul trouble, picking up at least three fouls on ten different occasions, and fouling out once, so he isn’t always on the court as much as his counterpart stars, but when he is, his impact is nearly unmatchable. He creates a mass quantity of high percentage shot opportunities, leading to a 76.3% shooting rate for the year. And when he’s not getting a lot of shots, he’s impacting the game in other ways. There have been just two contests this year when Azubuike was held to under 10 points, under 10 rebounds, and less than 3 blocks. When #1 Baylor shut down his inside looks, Azubuike locked down defensively with a season-high seven blocks. In a overtime win over #6 Dayton, Azubuike only got three rebounds, but he was unstoppable near the basket en route to 29 points on 12-15 shooting.
While Azubuike may not be a traditional star, his immense value to the Jayhawks is unquestionable. The Nigerian native has not scored more than 12 points in any of the three Kansas losses, suggesting that when they get their big man going, combined with their skilled outside shooting, the Jayhawks may be nearly impossible to stop.
This valuable impact makes Azubuike our next March Impact Player Feature, so be sure to watch out for this guy when Kansas goes dancing. Rock Chalk Jayhawk.