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.”
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.