LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Despite all the rim-rattling dunks that Kansas freshman Udoka Azubuike had Friday night, the play that stood out to UNC Asheville coach Nick McDevitt was the only shot the big man missed.
“Got his own rebound and dunked it,” McDevitt said with a shake of his head.
Azubuike had seven dunks in all, finished with 17 points in his first career start and helped the fifth-ranked Jayhawks roll to a 95-57 victory over the Bulldogs in their return to Allen Fieldhouse.
“I tried not to think about it because I was just like, everyone told me, right before the game started, ‘Go out there and play your game,'” Azubuike said. “Have fun.”
Just about everyone had fun for the Jayhawks (5-1): Frank Mason III led all scorers with 21 points, Josh Jackson added 14, Lagerald Vick had 12 and Devonte Graham finished with 11 assists.
The result was their 42nd straight win at Allen Fieldhouse.
“They kind of overpowered us around the basket, doubling us up rebounding-wise,” McDevitt said. “We knew they had a — pardon the pun — a big size advantage on us, but I just didn’t think we negated that size well enough by putting enough pressure on the ball.”
The only bummer for Kansas came in the closing minutes, when Graham banged up his right big toe on a drive to the basket. He did not return, though he said later that it wasn’t anything serious.
Kevin Vannatta and Ahmad Thomas led Asheville (3-3) with 12 points apiece.
The Jayhawks, coming off their CBE Classic triumph in Kansas City, never had much trouble with their Big South opponent in just their second game at the Phog this season.
Mason got things started with three 3-pointers in a span of a couple of minutes, but it was the way that Kansas dominated inside that put the game away early. Azubuike began pounding at the rim with some ferocious dunks while Jackson, their springy freshman phenom, kept gliding to the rack.
At one point, the pair scored four straight baskets on dunks.
Azubuike got the start over sophomore Carlton Bragg Jr. and senior Landen Lucas, both of whom struggled in the CBE Classic. And when the two came off the bench and each picked up two fouls, it gave coach Bill Self all the reason he needed to keep Azubuike in the game.
Asheville tried to guard the 7-foot, 280-pound behemoth with Giacomo Zilli, who checks in at 6-9, 215, with predictable results. Azubuike bullied to the basket every time he wanted the ball.
“Now, getting lobs and stuff, you’re not going to get that against some teams,” Self said, “but ‘Doke is so good at catching above the rim — he’s about the best I’ve seen at it.”
The Jayhawks led 58-34 at halftime before cruising over the final 20 minutes.
“I think we’re going to be a team that’s unlike most teams we’ve had. We’re going to start based on scouting report most times,” Self said. “We haven’t ever done that. If a team starts small, we’ll go small, if a team goes with two bigs, we’ll go two bigs. But it was nice to see Udoka have success. He can do some things that none of us can.”
UNC Asheville was overmatched at every position, not to mention when it came to depth. The Bulldogs looked exhausted in the second half as the Jayhawks kept getting into transition for easy baskets.
Kansas used Vick and Azubuike in a new-look starting five. It sent a message to Bragg and Lucas to pick it up — which they did in the second half — while showcasing the Jayhawks’ versatility.
Sure, the dunks will make the highlights, but Self thought Graham played as well as anyone. Along with 11 assists, he also had six points and two steals with only two turnovers. “I thought Devonte was certainly the facilitator,” Self said. “He was really good.”
Even with the big size advantage, the Jayhawks still lit it up from the arc. Mason was 5 for 5 from 3-point range, Vick was 3 for 4 and Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk also hit two 3s. The Jayhawks wound up 13 of 21 from beyond the arc.
UNC Asheville returns home to face Division II Brevard on Tuesday night.
Kansas continues its five-game home stand against Long Beach State on Tuesday night