LAWRENCE, Kan. – The Big 12 once again runs through Kansas.
Call this particular trophy a parting gift from Udoka Azubuike.
Azubuike, the Jayhawks’ fourth-year frontcourt force, scored 31 points on 13-for-14 shooting and hauled in 14 rebounds in his team’s 75-66 victory over TCU on Wednesday at Allen Fieldhouse. The senior night performance may have solidified a Big 12 player of the year bid for Azubuike, who, after three injury-ravaged campaigns, returned slimmer but better than ever for his collegiate swan song season.
“It's a good day to be a Jayhawk,” Azubuike said after delivering a farewell speech. “We're No. 1. Big 12 champs. My last home game at the Fieldhouse. It was good, but it was a little emotional being my last game.”
With the victory, KU captured at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season championship, with an opportunity to win it outright with a win in a 1 p.m. Saturday tilt against Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas. The Jayhawks' national-record-breaking streak of 14 straight conference titles was snapped last season by the Red Raiders and rival Kansas State, who were co-champions.
Also noteworthy is another streak Wednesday’s victory extended: KU has now won 37 consecutive home finales. Devon Dotson had 18 points for the Jayhawks, who finished 15-1 at Allen Fieldhouse.
It was the 62nd regular-season conference title for the Jayhawks, an NCAA record.
“You know, the season we had last season, we came up short of that goal of winning it. It's a good feeling, the guys getting the trophy, bringing it back to where it belongs,” Dotson said. “Hopefully we'll keep it going.”
KU (27-3, 16-1 Big 12) trailed by just two at halftime despite the visitors’ staggering 9-for-15 clip from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes.
TCU’s Edric Dennis went 5 of 6 from beyond the arc and scored 15 points in the first period, while teammate Desmond Bane was 4 of 5 from deep with 14 points ahead of the intermission. The desperate Horned Frogs (16-14, 7-10) trailed by seven just six minutes into the game but roared back, with Bane’s fourth trey at the 22-second mark delivering his team a 37-35 lead at the break.
Azubuike, who suffered a sprained right ankle last Saturday against K-State and was questionable for Wednesday’s home finale, looked spry from the opening tip – the 7-foot senior center scored the Jayhawks’ first 10 points and by halftime had 18 points on 9-for-10 shooting. His teammates went a combined 6 for 18, however, also failing to defend the 3-point line.
The Horned Frogs remained in front for the first chunk of the second half until Azubuike – who else? – kick-started the game-defining rally. The Delta, Nigeria, native’s dunk represented the first points in what became a 15-1 run, but this time, Azubuike’s teammates did most of the heavy lifting – Garrett notched back-to-back layups, Christian Braun hit a floater, Dotson hit a 3 and a pair of free throws and Braun converted a second-chance layup to cap the stretch and deliver a 58-47 lead for the Jayhawks with 10:32 left.
Bane, whose free-throw make represented the TCU’s lone point of resistance in KU’s lopsided run, converted an and-one layup to stop the bleeding and end what was a four-plus-minute scoring drought for the Horned Frogs. But by then, Allen Fieldhouse was sufficiently juiced – Azubuike’s put-back layup with 9:19 left initiated a personal stretch of five straight points for the “Big Fella,” a rally that delivered a 12-point lead and, for all intents and purposes, the league crown.
Ochai Agbaji’s soaring dunk on a Garrett lob pass a few moments later, then, served as the icing on the celebratory cake.
Bane finished with 24 points and Dennis had 18 for TCU, which scored a 75-72 upset home victory over then-No. 2 Baylor on Saturday. That outcome set the table for KU to clinch the league title Wednesday, with Baylor now needing a victory in its regular season finale – a noon Saturday clash at West Virginia – to have any shot at a share.
The Jayhawks didn’t wait to party, however, with athletic director Jeff Long delivering the Big 12 trophy to Bill Self and KU players shortly after Wednesday’s final buzzer.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.