After Oklahoma began intentionally fouling Udoka Azubuike late in Tuesday night’s game, Kansas coach Bill Self had a tough decision to make.
Should he cripple his defense by removing his top rebounder and rim protector, or keep allowing the Sooners to send a 41.1 percent foul shooter to the free throw line?
Self’s decision to trust Azubuike backfired as the 7-footer missed six straight free throws during the final four minutes of the game. Those four wasted possessions helped the Sooners complete their comeback from a 10-point second-half deficit and emerge with an 85-80 victory over the fifth-ranked Jayhawks.
“It was obviously the wrong thing to do to win this game,” Self told reporters in Norman after the game.
“If I had to do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I might have done it differently, but I’ve never believed that you take out one of your best players because you show him you don’t have confidence in him.”
Oklahoma trailed by two with 3:37 to go when coach Lon Kruger instructed his team to foul Azubuike on purpose. The Sooners fouled him on four of the next five possessions, a decision that kept them within striking distance long enough for Trae Young to play the role of hero.
Young scored 26 points on only nine shots, but it was his passing that tipped the game in favor of Oklahoma. He set up Christian James for a go-ahead corner 3-pointer with just over a minute to play and then found Brady Manek for a game-clinching pick-and-pop 3-pointer on Oklahoma’s next possession.
The Manek 3-pointer was especially galling to Self because of the defensive miscue that allowed it. Both Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk went with Young, leaving the sharpshooting Manek wide open from behind the arc.
“That’s what iced the game,” Self said. “We should have had the ball with a chance to tie or win it.”
That blunder coupled with Azubuike’s missed foul shots ruined Kansas’ chances for a seventh Big 12 win by six or fewer points. The Jayhawks blew an opportunity to seize control of the league title race and now hold a one-game lead over the Sooners and three other Big 12 teams.
Azubuike deserved better than playing the role of goat Tuesday night. After a foul-plagued first half, his activity in the paint at both ends of the floor early in the second half helped vault Kansas into the lead.
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