No. 2 Kansas to play New Mexico State without Azubuike
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At times this season Kansas has struggled with how to play through junior center Udoka Azubuike.
Now the No. 2 Jayhawks (7-0) must learn how to play without their 7-foot centerpiece after Azubuike sprained his right ankle.
Although the injury is not considered serious, Azubuike will be sidelined Saturday against New Mexico State (7-1) as part of a recovery period that could extend to the start of Big 12 play. The clash with the Aggies will be at Kansas City's Sprint Center.
"It is going to be extended," Kansas coach said of the time Azubuike will miss. He suffered the injury about midway through the first half of a win Tuesday over Wofford.
As a freshman Azubuike missed all but 11 games after suffering torn ligaments in his left wrist. Last year he sat out the Big 12 Tournament with a sprained MCL in his left knee. Azubuike has been hampered by foul trouble this year, which contributed to some rhythmic issues for the Jayhawks offensively. He averages 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds.
Without Azubuike, the Jayhawks become much smaller.
Marcus Garrett, a 6-5 sophomore, will move into the 4-spot, while more will be expected of 6-9 junior forward Dedric Lawson, who already leads Kansas in scoring (19.0) and rebounding (10.7). Minutes could grow for 6-10 freshman forward David McCormack, a McDonald's All-American who has shown flashes while looking raw.
"It's just kind of been the same for me," McCormack said. "Sticking to the program, sticking to the schedule, doing whatever I can. I don't think it's any pressure. If you just stick to what you know how to do and do it well, you can help the team."
Kansas is one of 11 undefeated teams remaining in Division I, including Big 12 rival Texas Tech.
The Jayhawks will look to get 3-point threat Lagerald Vick untracked again after the senior guard was scoreless against Wofford. He is shooting 57.1 percent from 3-point range.
New Mexico State carries a five-game winning streak after being picked to repeat as Western Athletic Conference champion. Junior guard Al Harris and junior forward Ivan Aurrecoechea lead the Aggies with scoring averages of 12.3 and 11.6 points. Depth has played out, with 12 Aggies averaging 11 or more minutes.
In a 100-65 rout of New Mexico on Tuesday, the Aggies claimed a 50-28 advantage on the glass and scored 21 second-chance points off 12 offensive boards. That kind of rebounding strength could pose an advantage after Kansas, with Azubuike injured, was outrebounded by Wofford.
New Mexico State coach Chris Jans pointed to improvement inside from Aurrecoechea, as well as the presence of two forwards who have battled injuries, senior Eli Chuha and sophomore Johnny McCants.
"They battled," Jans said. "They were playing hard and they owned the paint (against New Mexico)."
The Aggies' lone defeat was against Saint Mary's in mid-November. Jans, who stands 35-7 in his second season, receives a $5,000 incentive bonus for a win over a Power-5 member, something the Aggies achieved earlier this season by defeating Washington State.
Updated December 8, 2018