In Kansas men’s basketball’s defensive battle with No. 18 Villanova, small but critical errors led to the Wildcats upsetting the top-ranked Jayhawks.
To this point in the season, Kansas had used its overpowering post presence to bully undersized teams in the paint. However, this game was a different story. Missed layups were one of the common themes in the contest.
Early on, Kansas hit its towering big man, senior center Udoka Azubuike (7 feet, 270 pounds), who currently leads the nation in field goal percentage, on the low block, but he uncharacteristically missed the hook shot despite being guarded by a much smaller player, freshman forward Jeremiah Robison-Earl (6-foot-9, 232 pounds).
Later in the half, Azubuike got another good look in the paint, but he missed another jump hook. On the following possession, sophomore forward David McCormack botched a layup as well.
While Kansas’ bigs did show flashes of their old selves from time to time, every great play seemed to be matched by an awful miss.
Early in the second half, sophomore guard Devon Dotson found Azubuike all alone underneath the basket. The Nigeria native had an easy dunk, but he fumbled the ball on the way up, and Villanova picked it up. Clearly frustrated with himself, Azubuike walked back to the other end of the floor shaking his head in disbelief.
Kansas men's basketball fell 56-55 to No. 18 Villanova during the back-and-forth showdown in Philadelphia Saturday, Dec. 21. Up next, the Jayhawks continue their road trip as they travel to California to take on Stanford on Dec. 29.
Azubuike finished with a season low field goal percentage: 60% (6-of-10 from the field). The Wildcats' scrappy defense also managed to hold the Jayhawks to its lowest first half score since March 27, 2011 — the day VCU upset Kansas in the Elite Eight.
Several times this season, coach Bill Self has pointed out the Jayhawks’ inability to communicate on the defensive end as one of the weaknesses of his team and that deficiency was highlighted in this matchup.
After a media timeout at the 2:51 mark of the first half, sophomore guard Ochai Agbaji turned to McCormack and gestured, which appeared to be a signal to switch men if a screen comes. But, when the pick came, neither of the two Jayhawks defended it, and Villanova freshman guard Justin Moore knocked down the wide open corner three to take an early 21-18 lead.
Later in the game, at the 16:55 mark of the second half, a similar scenario took place. Following a missed jumper from senior guard Isaiah Moss, Dotson and Azubuike signaled to each other, attempting to defend Villanova’s fast break, but yet again neither were able to slide over and defend the shooter in time and the result was another made three from the Wildcats.
Kansas went on to lose 56-55. The Jayhawks are now the fifth No. 1-ranked team to be upset this season. They will look to bounce back next week as they travel down to Stanford University to take on the Cardinals on Dec. 29.