Udoka Azubuike’s dominant outing Saturday could become Exhibit A in the Kansas basketball senior center’s case to be named Big 12 player of the year.
Thing is, Azubuike’s closest competition for that honor also wears crimson and blue.
"Yeah, he did (make his case)," Bill Self said, "but let’s not forget about Dot."
Both Azubuike and Devon Dotson proved vital in what became their squad’s biggest win.
Azubuike scored 23 points on 11-for-13 shooting and hauled in a career-best 19 rebounds, Dotson notched 13 points and dished three assists, and the duo combined to account for 56.3% of their team’s scoring output in the No. 3-ranked Jayhawks’ 64-61 victory over No. 1 Baylor at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. The win pulled the Jayhawks (24-3, 13-1 Big 12) into a tie with the Bears for the conference lead with four games remaining.
"We know that they beat us at our place earlier in the season. We wanted to get ’em back," Dotson said. "It was a big win. Everybody did their part on this one. It was just exciting."
Dotson, the Jayhawks’ sophomore point guard, is now averaging a Big 12-leading 18.2 points with 4.2 assists per game, while Azubuike averages 13.1 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots.
"We’ve got two guys that I think have a viable case to do it," continued Self, speaking on his postgame radio interview.
Winning a Big 12 player of the year honor, Self has outlined, is one of the program’s automatic triggers that ensure a player’s future jersey retirement. Marcus Morris, who was a league player of the year in 2010-11, had his number lifted to the rafters in a Feb. 17 ceremony at Allen Fieldhouse.
Still, both Azubuike and Dotson would stress that team-oriented goals far outweigh any attainable individual achievements, and the Jayhawks certainly moved closer to the former Saturday.
Dotson scored eight of his points in that game’s final 15 minutes, on three different occasions answering Baylor buckets with driving layups that fended off potential rallies. Then, with 34 seconds left, Dotson hit two free throws that pushed the visitor’s advantage back to seven, critical makes as the Bears followed with back-to-back made 3s.
"I thought he played great," Self said of Dotson. "I don’t know how many turnovers he had, two turnovers, and the ball is in his hand all the time? I thought he played great. He’s fast and he can’t get around (Davion) Mitchell very good. That’s how fast Mitchell is. But the plays that he made getting to the hole there midway through the second half were pretty good."
On the game’s final possession and with the Jayhawks switching five on defense, Dotson smothered Baylor’s Jared Butler, who couldn’t hit what would’ve been a game-tying 3 to force overtime.
"It switched off on me and I just wanted to make it tough on him, keep a hand in his face," Dotson said. "We all executed, talked it out, communicated with each other. It was a big shot. … (I was) hoping it doesn’t go in. I mean, just tried to contest as well as I could on that last play, and yeah, it came up short."
Azubuike, the Big 12 preseason player of the year, had a marathon 36-minute stint, realistically the lone frontcourt option as sophomore David McCormack fouled out in just four minutes.
"To me he’s had a great year. He’s played turned up just about all year," Self said. "... He’s a better player than his numbers show because he’s so good defensively, but tonight he was equally good on offense."
Dotson, who suffered a hip pointer injury in the first matchup with the Bears, said the one-versus-three rematch lived up to the hype and his own personal expectations.
With a new No. 1 ranking looming, the Jayhawks’ statement Saturday went beyond simply showcasing to a national audience a pair of players blossoming into perhaps the best one-two punch in college hoops — Dotson and Azubuike join Duke’s Tre Jones and Vernon Carey Jr. as the only teammates on the Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 Watch List.
"We’re solid, a team that can make a run in late March," Dotson said. "We’re not going to get complacent from this one. We’re going to build off of it. We’re going to enjoy this win, but build off it for sure."