Wichita, Kan. — Udoka Azubuike had practiced once in the last 11 days because of a lingering knee injury, and the mammoth Kansas forward’s three-minute stretch in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament was about as underwhelming as his herky-jerky free-throw stroke.
He managed to go 22 minutes against Seton Hall on Saturday night.
The Jayhawks needed all of them.
Azubuike stood toe-to-toe with the Pirates’ bruising Angel Delgado, and he drew enough attention on offense to spring his high-scoring guards for open looks. The result was a 28-point performance from teammate Malik Newman, 16 more from Svi Mykhailiuk, and a gritty 83-79 victory that pushed the top-seeded Jayhawks to their third consecutive Sweet 16.
“If ‘Doke wasn’t able to come back from his injury, we don’t win,” coach Bill Self said. “I was hoping for 20 minutes. That was what I was hoping. And he could have played more.”
Lagerald Vick added 13 points for Kansas (29-7), which converted every crucial play down the stretch to advance to the semifinals of the Midwest Region. The Jayhawks will face the winner of Sunday night’s game between Auburn and Clemson next week in Omaha, Nebraska.
Delgado finished with 24 points and 23 rebounds in a virtuoso effort for the No. 8 seed Pirates (22-11), who snapped a four-game NCAA Tournament skid in the opening round. But he was less effective when Azubuike was in the game, a matchup that often sounded like battleships colliding.
“It stinks, basically, to leave like this,” Delgado said, “because we had so much expectation. We wanted to win every game, be the best team in the tournament.”
Khadeen Carrington finished with 28 points, many of them on 3-pointers in the closing minutes, and Myles Powell added 14 as the pair of guards tried in vain to keep Seton Hall alive.
It was 71-66 with 53 seconds left when Devonte Graham made two free throws for Kansas. Carrington kept answering for the Pirates, but the Jayhawks were unflappable at the foul line.
“I think it was the four-minute timeout, Coach told us in the huddle we were in the bonus. Just get down there, keep getting fouls,” said Newman, the MVP of last week’s Big 12 Tournament. “I was able to hit them quick and I was able to get to the line and make my free throws.”
Kansas led just 31-26 at halftime, when Delgado had already piled up 12 points and 12 rebounds, and was forced to make some significant adjustments in the locker room.
On defense, Self called for double-teams on Delgado whenever he got the ball down low, especially when Azubuike was sitting on the bench. On offense, he had his guys throw it to Azubuike on the block or rely on Mykhailiuk – by nature a 3-point specialist – to slash to the basket.
Together, they helped the Jayhawks stretch their lead to double digits.
Delgado kept the Pirates in the game, though. Azubuike went to the bench with four fouls with about 9 minutes left, and coach Kevin Willard instructed his own guys to go right back to their center.
Delgado was so effective that Self gambled by putting ‘Doke right back in the game.
“He was the best player in the game,” Self said. “He was a man. We knew he was good. And not having Doke in there more hurt us, because physically he was able to get the best of us.”
Seton Hall closed to 63-59 with 3:22 to go, but Newman answered with a 3-pointer and a pair of foul shots, and the poised Jayhawks never allowed the Pirates to come all the way back.
“I thought it was an extremely well-played game,” Willard said. “I thought the kids left everything on the floor for both teams. I’m proud of the way my guys kept fighting back. You just have to give Kansas credit. They made a lot of big shots late.”
More Midwest Region
Duke 87, Rhode Island 62: At Pittsburgh, Marvin Bagley had 22 points and nine rebounds, leading Duke to its 26th trip to the Sweet 16.
It was Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,099th victory, breaking a tie with late Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt for the most wins by a basketball coach in NCAA history.
Duke shot 57 percent (29 of 51) from the floor and finished with 20 assists. The Blue Devils (28-7) will play either Michigan State or Syracuse in the Midwest Region semifinals in Omaha, Nebraska next Friday.
E.C. Matthews led Rhode Island (26-8) with 21 points but the Rams looked confounded at times by Duke’s much improved zone defense. A weakness during a mini-swoon in late January, the Blue Devils are no longer treating defense like a chore they’re forced to complete before getting the ball back in their hands.
Gonzaga 90, Ohio State 84: At Boise, Idaho, Zach Norvell Jr. had 28 points, Rui Hachimura added 25 and Gonzaga reached the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight season.
Norvell hit the late tiebreaking 3-pointer against UNC-Greensboro in the opening round to help the Zags (32-4) advance. The confident freshman made 6 of 11 from beyond the arc against Ohio State.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a big early lead, withstood a second-half Ohio State charge and made the big plays down the stretch to earn a spot in the West Region semifinals against the Xavier-Florida State winner in Los Angeles.
The resilient-all-season Buckeyes (25-9) rallied from an abysmal start and an 11-point halftime deficit to take a brief second-half lead before Gonzaga went on an 11-0 run to snatch it back. Keita Bates-Diop had 28 points for Ohio State, and Kam Williams finished with 19.
Loyola of Chicago 63, Tennessee 62: At Dallas, Clayton Custer made a go-ahead jumper with 3.6 seconds left, sending 11th-seeded Loyola of Chicago to the Sweet 16.
Custer’s winner, which took a friendly bounce off the rim, came two days after Donte Ingram’s buzzer-beating 3 for Loyola against Miami, surely to the delight of Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the 98-year-old nun, team chaplain and primary booster watching from her wheelchair on a platform near the main TV cameras.
The Ramblers (30-5) broke the school record for wins set by the 1963 NCAA championship team. The small Catholic college in the heart of Chicago will play the Cincinnati-Nevada winner in the regional semifinals Thursday in Atlanta.
No. 3 seed Tennessee (26-7) took its only lead of the second half on a three-point play by Grant Williams with 20 seconds remaining.
After Loyola almost lost the ball on an out-of-bounds call confirmed on replay, Custer took the inbounds pass with 10 seconds left, dribbled left and then right, pulled up and let go of the winner.
Kentucky 95, Buffalo 75: At Boise, Idaho, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 27 points and Kentucky pulled away for the victory.
Gilgeous-Alexander went 10 for 12 and made both of his 3-point attempts to send fifth-seeded Kentucky (26-10) to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season.
Coming into the day, the basketball world was still reverberating from Maryland-Baltimore County’s 16 vs. 1 stunner over Virginia the night before. Villanova and Duke both rolled early; the evening slate started with Kentucky, and the Wildcats, with their all-freshman starting lineup, trailed only once: 2-0.
It wasn’t a runaway until the last 7 minutes.
Buffalo (27-9), which got here with a 21-point blowout over Arizona, twice trimmed a double-digit lead to five midway through the second half.
Gilgeous-Alexander answered both times – once with a 3-pointer to extend the lead to eight, then again a few minutes later with a three-point play that started a 12-2 run and put the game away.
Villanova 81, Alabama 58: At Pittsburgh, Mikal Bridges scored 23 points, helping No. 1 seed Villanova to an impressive victory.
The Wildcats (32-4) are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since they won the 2016 national championship. Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth – and yes, The Big Ragu – look every bit the favorite to make it two in three years.
Villanova plays Friday in Boston against the Marshall-West Virginia winner.
Collin Sexton led Alabama (20-16) with 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting. The star guard has to decide if he’ll join the ranks of the one-and-done freshman.
Texas Tech 69, Florida 66: At Dallas, Keenan Evans made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 2 1/2 minutes left, sending Texas Tech to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005.
Evans finished with 22 points, and Zhaire Smith had 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. The third-seeded Red Raiders (26-9) will face Purdue or Butler next Friday night in Boston.
Jalen Hudson scored 23 points for Florida (21-13). Egor Koulechov had 12 points, and Chris Chiozza finished with 11.