Kansas basketball held serve Saturday — on multiple fronts.
Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson, the No. 3-ranked Jayhawks’ two representatives on the John R. Wooden Award Late Season Top 20, notched double-doubles in helping KU to a 60-46 victory over TCU at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. The senior center Azubuike had a 20-point, 15-rebound outburst, while the sophomore guard Dotson finished with 18 points and 11 assists.
KU, which shot just 41.4% from the field, led by four with seven minutes left but put together a 12-0 run from that point to ensure its sixth consecutive road victory and fifth straight in Big 12 play. TCU was only 19-for-54 shooting with 17 turnovers.
Azubuike also finished with five of KU's seven blocked shots, while Dotson had three of the team's 10 steals.
“That’s about as bad as we can play offensively,” KU coach Bill Self said on a postgame radio interview, “and probably about as good as we can play defensively.”
Entering the weekend one game behind Baylor in the race for the Big 12 regular-season championship, KU kept the pressure on the top-ranked Bears.
Not only that, but the Jayhawks on Saturday were projected by the NCAA Tournament selection committee as a No. 1 seed in the first bracket preview of the season — KU was listed as a No. 1 in the Midwest Region, behind only Baylor (South) in the race for the NCAA Tournament’s top overall seed. Gonzaga (West) and San Diego State (East) were also projected as top seeds.
Still, the Jayhawks remain a work-in-progress.
“Our shooting and passing today, wow. We’ve got to get better. And then we didn’t close the game out late," said Self, whose team led by 12 with less than 11 minutes left. "But it was a good win and I’m proud. If you told me before the game started we’d win by 14, I’d say, wow, we must’ve played great. We did on one end, and of course, after Doke got going, after we woke up, I thought he was terrific.”
KU (20-3, 9-1 Big 12) missed its first eight field goal attempts Saturday but still held a commanding 13-point halftime lead.
Azubuike nearly had a first-half double-double, scoring 14 points and hauling in nine rebounds in 14 minutes. The 7-footer, who also had three blocked shots in the opening period, went 7 for 10 from the floor before the break, helping offset a collective 6-for-26 shooting start by his teammates.
“Doke was good,” Self said. “And of course Doke defensively, he’s off-the-charts good defensively.”
TCU, meanwhile, couldn't get out of its own way early on. The Horned Frogs (13-10, 4-6), losers of six of their last seven, committed eight turnovers and went 8 for 27 from the floor and 2 for 11 from 3 in the first half.
KU's Isaiah Moss hit a 3 at the buzzer to give KU its largest lead, 31-18, at the intermission.
“I mean, other than Doke (Azubuike), we didn’t really have any offense at all,” said Self, who earned his 700th career victory Saturday. “Our best offense ... was our defense. Our defense led to (17 points off turnovers), which we hadn’t been getting.”
It was the Jayhawks that shot themselves in the foot midway through the second half.
KU committed seven turnovers and in the process got off 10 fewer shot attempts than TCU in the first 12 minutes of the final frame, allowing the Horned Frogs to score 11 points off turnovers in that stretch and trim the deficit to five, 42-37, with 8:27 left.
RJ Nembhard hit a 3 a short time later to create a four-point hole, 44-40, but that proved to be TCU’s last competitive gasp.
KU forced turnovers on four straight defensive possessions — steals by Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji and Moss and a shot clock violation — and capitalized on the other end. Dotson converted a layup through contact and subsequent free-throw try after Garrett’s takeaway, Agbaji hit a pair at the stripe after his own steal and Dotson finished a put-back layup after Moss’ theft.
That last bucket suddenly made the KU lead 11 with 4:33 left, but the visitors weren’t finished. Agbaji was true on a 3 and Dotson on a short jumper to deliver a 56-40 advantage and finish of the 12-0 run, which in turn finished off the Horned Frogs.
Desmond Bane scored 20 points, Nembhard 11 and PJ Fuller 10 to round out the double-figure scorers for TCU, which held KU to a 24-for-58 shooting performance. The Jayhawks went just 4 of 13 from beyond the arc, the seventh time in the last 11 games that KU has connected on four or fewer 3s.
KU’s season continues with its biggest road test to date, a 6 p.m. Wednesday tipoff against No. 13 West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va.
“It’ll be a hard game, but it should be a hard game when you go to West Virginia and play one of Huggs’ (Bob Huggins’) teams,” Self said. “So we’ll have to be much better than we were today.”