KU's Udoka Azubuike could play in 'emergency' Thursday vs. Penn, Self says

By Gary Bedore gbedore@kcstar.com

A custom-black, luxury-seated Arrow Stage Lines bus carrying Kansas’ basketball players and coaches arrived at the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Wichita just before 9 p.m. Tuesday.

The Jayhawks checked into their remodeled digs after driving from Allen Fieldhouse straight to Chester’s Chophouse for dinner.

Yes, injured sophomore center Udoka Azubuike was one of the Jayhawks to descend the stairs of the bus and walk without a limp into the hotel lobby. KU coach Bill Self immediately updated the media on the status of the 7-footer who sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee at practice a week ago.

“I am encouraged. I really am,” Self said of Azubuike’s progress, deeming him likely available if needed in an “emergency” situation in Thursday’s first-round NCAA Tournament game against Penn at 1 p.m. in Intrust Bank Arena.

“And I am not being overly optimistic. He’s been on the court the last three days. Today he ran on the court, and stopped and started, and changed directions. He’s still not 100 percent. But they say it’s one of those things it can get a lot better in a very short amount of time.

“Our hope is that he could be available Thursday in an emergency-type situation. But the reality of it is he’s probably not going to be able to practice before Thursday. I’ve never liked playing guys until they practiced when they are coming off an injury.

“But if he can be available maybe Thursday and then practice on Friday, hopefully have him at least for some extended minutes on Saturday if we are able to play."

Azubuike has been fitted for a brace and will be required to wear it the rest of the season at practice and in games, Self said.

If No. 1 seed KU defeats No. 16 Penn on Thursday, it would meet either Seton Hall or North Carolina State on Saturday for the right to play in the Sweet 16 next week in Omaha, Neb.

“It was fine,” Self said of Tuesday’s practice in Lawrence. The team will hold a shootaround open to the public from 12:30-1:10 p.m. Wednesday at Intrust Bank Arena.

“The last two days have been good. Guys have been pretty fresh and playing like they are excited. Practice has been good,” Self said. “We took Sunday off (after beating West Virginia in Big 12 tourney finale on Saturday at the Sprint Center), went pretty hard yesterday, backed off a bit today. We were able to work quite a bit on Penn in guarding their actions. They do it differently than anybody we play.”

He added of Penn: “I was really surprised when they showed up on the 16 line and after watching them (on film), surprise went to anger because they are not (a 16 seed). I was told by somebody yesterday we are the least-favored 1 over a 16 team in the history of the tournament. They could beat us. They have good enough players. They can shoot it. They defend extremely well, don’t give up easy baskets, don’t give up threes. They run stuff like you’d anticipate a typical Ivy League school to run if you think of Princeton with the Ivy League and when Steve (Donahue, Penn coach) was at Cornell — a lot of dribble back cuts, screen away back cuts, a lot of things nobody in our league does. It’s a quick prep, but they have our attention."

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