LAWRENCE, Kan. — The last time Kansas played Oklahoma, a firestorm was created both in the lane and at the free throw line.
Udoka Azubuike, the Jayhawks’ sophomore center, was left to fend for himself underneath in the closing minutes. Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger instructed his team to foul the poor free throw shooter if he touched the ball. Kansas coach Bill Self left in his big man to let Azubuike solve the problem.
Some questioned the sportsmanship involved with the move by Kruger, but the strategy worked. Azubuike missed all but one of eight free throws, and the Sooners rallied for an 85-80 victory on Jan. 23.
The rematch is scheduled Monday in Allen Fieldhouse. After gaining a first-place tie with Texas Tech in the Big 12, the No. 13 Jayhawks (21-6, 10-4 Big 12) will play host to the No. 23 Sooners (16-10, 6-8).
If the clash goes down to the wire, Self may leave in Azubuike again. The 7-foot Nigerian made 7 of 10 free throws Saturday as Kansas capitalized on a 35-2 differential in foul shots and 26-1 scoring advantage from the line to beat West Virginia 77-69. Azubuike scored a team-high 21 points.
“I’m proud of him, period. He hung in there,” Self said. “It would have been easy to get down. I know there have been some times where he didn’t shoot 70 percent in practice (at the line) when we are rebounding for him, but his form is getting better.”
No problems exist with Azubuike’s touch when opponents let him shoot from the field. He leads the nation with a 76.9 shooting percentage, often off dunks, after going 7 of 8 against West Virginia. He is shooting 86 percent in his last six games. On free throws, he is 18 of 30 in the seven games since the loss at Oklahoma.
“I’m confident with my free throws, taking them one at a time,” Azubuike said. “I’m just going to go out there and concentrate.”
Kansas rides a four-game winning streak. A win against Oklahoma would set up a potential Big 12 title showdown at Texas Tech on Feb. 24. The Jayhawks are bidding for a 14th consecutive conference crown, which would break the major-college record they share with UCLA, which won the Pac-8/10 title 13 consecutive seasons from 1967-79.
The skid that threatens to sink Oklahoma continued Saturday with a 77-66 home loss to Texas. With their fifth straight defeat, the Sooners dropped into a three-way tie for sixth place in the Big 12.
The celebrated impact of Trae Young continues to lose some luster, though the freshman guard still leads the nation with averages of 29.1 points and 9.3 assists. During the Sooners’ current losing streak, Young is just 10 of 51 from 3-point range.
“I’m getting guarded like nobody else in the country is being guarded, scouted on like nobody else,” Young said. “It’s a mystery coming out each and every game, trying to figure out how teams are going to guard me and how I’m going to dictate how my team wins.”
The Sooners were ranked in the top five just a month ago, but their slump is hurting their NCAA Tournament credentials. Oklahoma has lost 16 straight at Kansas dating to a 1993 win in the Big Eight under Billy Tubbs.
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