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John E. Hoover: Azubuike injury may open door for OU or OSU in Big 12 Tournament

John E. Hoover: Azubuike injury may open door for OU or OSU in Big 12 Tournament

Injured Kansas center Udoka Azubuike watches while his team practices for an NCAA college basketball game in the Big 12 basketball tournament in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, March 7, 2018. Azubuike will miss the Big 12 tournament. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

KANSAS CITY — Whichever team survives Wednesday night’s first-round Bedlam matchup in the Sprint Center will have an easier path to weekend games at the Big 12 Tournament.

Oklahoma or Oklahoma State — they tip off tonight at 6 — won’t have to face Kansas center Udoka Azubuike, who was lost for the tournament with an MCL sprain suffered Tuesday in practice.

“Just a routine basketball play,” KU coach Bill Self said after Wednesday’s practice. “We were probably about 10 minutes from the end of practice yesterday. The ball was shot, he kind of ran around his man to get the rebound, a body kind of crashed into his man and knocked him off balance and fell into him. So, total freak thing.”

Self said an MRI revealed a Grade 1 sprain in Azubuike’s left knee. On Wednesday, Azubuike hobbled around the Sprint Center in a knee brace.

The Bedlam winner plays top-seeded Kansas on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. Both the Sooners (18-12) and Cowboys (18-13) could use a kick in the Big 12 Tournament. OU lost seven of its last nine heading into the postseason, and OSU’s soft non-conference schedule has hurt its strength-of-schedule and RPI ratings. More wins in Kansas City would strengthen each school’s NCAA Tournament resume.

In KU’s split with OU this year, the 7-foot, 280-pound Azubuike averaged 9.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game and made 9-of-11 shots from the field. In KU’s two losses to OSU, Azubuike averaged 14 points and six rebounds and made 12-of-17 field goals.

Kansas already had one of its thinnest rosters under Self with Azubuike on the floor. He averaged 12.9 points and 6.6 rebounds this season and was named third-team All-Big 12.

“We may have to play real small,” Self said. “We’ll figure it out.”

Silvio De Sousa, a 6-9 freshman, and Mitch Lightfoot, a 6-8 sophomore, likely will fill Azubuike’s minutes. Big 12 player of the year Devonte Graham said Wednesday the Jayhawks likely wouldn’t resort to a five-guard lineup.

“I think our mindset will be totally different,” Self said. “Because when you know you’re only gonna play two or three or four minutes and you know you’ve got a short leash and everything, your mindset’s a little different.”

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Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.

Columns

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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