Brandishing a smile, Udoka Azubuike holds his hands in the air while the ball dribbles out to his side

Senior center Udoka Azubuike shows his emotions against Texas. The Jayhawks defeated the Longhorns 69-58 Monday, Feb. 3.

Column

From walking on campus of the University of Kansas at age 16 to growing into the Big 12 Player of the Year, Kansas men’s basketball’s senior center Udoka Azubuike has had an illustrious four-year career with the Jayhawks.

While in his final year Azubuike won’t have the opportunity to compete in the NCAA tournament, his tenure was still filled with great moments. In honor of that, here are the top five career-defining games for the Nigeria native.

5. Nov. 14, 2017 – Sophomore Azubuike lifts Kansas past Kentucky in Champions Classic

In what was a coming out party for the up-and-comer Azubuike, Kansas’ star-studded backcourt struggled to get much going. Devonte' Graham, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman shot a lackluster 14-of-46 from the field.

Clearly in a funk, the Jayhawks would be forced to turn to their big man to spark the offense. Azubuike was the best player on the floor that night as he turned in 13 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting. He also managed to lead his team with eight rebounds,.

This was the game that Azubuike put himself on the map as his performance ended up being the catalyst 65-61 win over the Wildcats. His impressive outing showed people he could be more than just a role player for the Jayhawks. That season, the Jayhawks’ inside and out game turned into one of the best in the country, and they advanced all the way to the Final Four.

4. Feb. 3, 2020 – Azubuike is benched, responds with double-double versus Texas

In the midst of a record-setting senior season, Azubuike was shockingly taken out of the starting lineup after getting into a “dust-up” with coach Bill Self in the previous game.

After shaking off some early game jitters, the big man led Kansas in points (17) and rebounds (12). What made the game so impressive is that he put up those numbers in just 25 minutes of play and did so against one of the best interior defenders in the Big 12, Longhorns’ junior forward Jericho Sims.

The way Azubuike bounced back earned praise from his coach. In the post-game press conference, Self applauded his maturity.

Through the rest of the season, the Nigeria native elevated to another level. He started the remainder of the season and averaged 16 points and 12.5 rebounds through the final eight games.

3. Nov. 27, 2019 – Azubuike puts up 29 points in overtime thriller against Dayton

After blowing by the Chaminade and BYU in the first two rounds of the Maui Invitational, the championship game wasn't as easy for Kansas. Dayton was Kansas’ toughest opponent up to that point an they entered the game with a 5-0 – four of the five wins were blowouts.

The game turned into a wild back-and-forth affair. The Flyers knocked down the second most 3-pointers in a game in Dayton history with 16. However, the efforts of Azubuike kept the Jayhawks in the game. The 7-foot, 270-pound center dominated the paint, blocking four shots and tallying 29 points, a new career-high at the time.

Azubuike scored Kansas’ first nine points of the overtime period and silenced some haters in the process, as the career 41.6% free throw shooter went 3-for-3 from the charity stripe during that stretch.

2. March 3, 2020 – Azubuike posts career-high in final game inside Allen Fieldhouse

Azubuike’s final game in Lawrence encapsulated who he was as a player. His physical presence inside proved to be too much for the Horned Frogs front court, which included the Big 12 leader in blocks per game in Kevin Samuel.

Right off the jump, the former McDonald’s All-American scored the Jayhawks’ first 10 points of the game on the low block. This aggressiveness continued throughout the contest, as he recorded a new career-high in points (31) while only missing one shot the entire game. The big man also hauled in 14 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season.

After the game, Self referred to him as “the best post in America.” Azubuike made sure to thank his family, fans, teammates and coaches in his heart-felt senior speech.

1. Feb. 22, 2020 – Azubuike dominates in pivotal road game against No. 1 Baylor

The Kansas rematch against Baylor proved to be the best moment of Azubuike’s career. The No. 3 Jayhawks traveled down to Waco, Texas, to take on the top-ranked Bears — the team that previously beat them 67-55 in Allen Fieldhouse.

The Bears’ defense was one of the best in the country. In Kansas’ first meeting with Baylor, Azubuike was held to just six points. In the second go-round, effectiveness on screen and rolls propelled him to a 23-point outing. Of his 11 made field goals, eight were dunks. To go with that, the big man posted career-highs in rebounds (19) and minutes played (31) in the 64-61 victory.

Azubuike also tallied three blocks. This was highlighted in an emotional post-game interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe.

—Edited by Mitchell Osterlund