Last week, Udoka Azubuike entered the NCAA tournament as an “emergency” option following a knee injury and played just three minutes in Kansas’ win over Penn in the Round of 64.
What a difference a week makes.
Azubuike scored 14 points and ripped down 11 rebounds, Malik Newman scored a team-high 17 points, and Devonte’ Graham knocked down some crucial late free throws as Kansas held on for a 80-76 win over Clemson. It’s the Jayhawks’ third straight Elite Eight and eighth in 15 years under head coach Bill Self.
Clemson kept things close early and trailed just 20-19 with 8:38 remaining in the first half. But the Jayhawks hit four of their next five shots and closed the half on a 20-8 run, leading 40-27 at the break.
The momentum carried over into the second half with Kansas scoring nine of the half’s first 11 points to open up a 20-point advantage at 49-29.
Senior guard Gabe DeVoe did all he could to keep the Tigers in it, scoring a career-high 31 points in what would turn out to be his final collegiate game. Trailing 54-34, DeVoe knocked down a jumper from the free-throw line off a spin move and then stole a Graham pass and finished through a foul on the other end. His free throw cut the deficit to 15 and sent Graham to the bench with three fouls.
Considering Graham spent just 16 minutes on the bench during all of Big 12 play combined, it seemed like a terrific opportunity for the Tigers to claw their way back into things. But Kansas came right back with Azubuike hitting a left-handed hook shot before heading to the bench with his third foul. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk hit a tough step-back jumper and Silvio De Sousa — Azubuike’s backup — scored on a put-back layup as the shot clock expired, restoring the lead to 20 at the under-12 timeout.
As was the case all year, though, Clemson refused to go away. The Tigers whittled away at the lead and then used an 11-2 run to cut it to just 74-68. Shelton Mitchell capped the sequence with an emphatic dunk just seconds after a traditional three-point play, that fouled out Azubuike.
Even after some shaky late free-throw shooting from Kansas, Clemson never got to closer than four points, a deficit it got to with just seconds to go. It proved to be too little, too late.
Still, it was a terrific season for the tough-nosed Tigers, who lost second-leading Donte Grantham to a torn ACL during ACC play yet still managing to advance to their first Sweet 16 since since 1997. They beat a physical New Mexico State team in the first round and then dominated Auburn in the Round of 32.
Kansas, meanwhile, keeps rolling. The Jayhawks never trailed and hit 10 3-pointers, four of which came from Newman. The star redshirt sophomore picked up the slack for Graham, who shot poorly (4-12) and is now just 14 of 43 from the field in the NCAA tournament. The Jayhawks will meet the winner of Duke and Syracuse on Sunday with a trip to the Final Four on the line.