UMKC stands between No. 2 Kansas and top ranking

NCAA Men's Basketball
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Even in an age of sophisticated analytics, the simplest statistics can still command the critical eye of a basketball coach.

In the case of Kansas’ Bill Self, the rebounding totals recorded by Udoka Azubuike did not jump off the stat sheet. Although the 7-foot senior center is receiving acclaim for making shots at an 82.2 percent rate, his domination underneath has not been complete.

However, Azubuike is coming off a personal best for rebounds as No. 2 Kansas (8-1) prepares for a game Saturday against Missouri-Kansas City (5-6) at Kansas City, Mo.

Azubuike grabbed 17 boards as part of a double-double (15 points) he posted Tuesday in a 95-68 rout of Milwaukee. He averages 14.8 points and 8.4 boards.

“The coaches challenged me to go out and get more rebounds,” Azubuike said. “I also challenged myself. I told myself I was going to go out there and spend more effort.”

Ten of Azubuike’s rebounds came in the first half, prompting Self to revise a pregame plea.

“We challenged him to try and get to 20,” Self said. “You would think a guy that does this for a living, his stats would be better.”

Although the Jayhawks are making improvements, the potential to play at a high level has been established already.

Kansas has won eight straight since opening the season with a narrow loss to Duke in the Champions Classic. With a loss by No. 1 Louisville earlier this week to Texas Tech, the Jayhawks are poised to take over the top spot in the rankings.

“We weren’t very effective at all in that (Duke) game, and even though we thought we easily could have won the game, we didn’t,” Self said. “You certainly can’t get that back, but since then, we’ve been pretty good and fairly consistent.

“I think we are getting better. Still, up until about January, rankings don’t really mean that much, but it is worth a little bit more as we get toward conference play.”

As usual, the Jayhawks remain practically unbeatable at home. Their homecourt win streak stands at 26, a figure that can be padded Saturday since the matchup against Kansas City qualifies as a game Kansas is hosting at Sprint Center.

Jayhawks sophomore guard Devon Dotson has netted double figures in 15 consecutive games dating back to last season. He leads the Big 12 with a 19.8-point average. Sophomore guard Ochai Agbaji is coming off back-to-back season scoring bests against Colorado (20) and Milwaukee (22).

The appearance at the downtown Sprint Center, which opened in 2007, will be the first for UMKC, which reached the championship game of the Island of the Bahamas Showcase earlier this season.

Javan White, a 6-10 senior forward, leads the Kangaroos in scoring (12 points per game), rebounding (7.5), steals (1.4) and blocks (0.9). UMKC is playing its final season in the Western Athletic Conference before moving into the Summit League in 2020-21.

First-year coach Billy Donlon said after the team’s most recent win, 68-67 over Western Illinois on Nov. 30, “We are not a finished product. We are not ready for 40 minutes playing excellent on both ends, and we’re going to get there.”

The Kangaroos then lost their next two games, both on the road, to Iowa State and McNeese.

Donlon called Saturday’s scheduling arrangement “a great day for Kansas City basketball” since fans of Missouri-Kansas City can also watch their women’s team play Kansas State earlier in the day at Municipal Auditorium.

–Field Level Media

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