LAWRENCE (AP) — Fifth-ranked Kansas will be without center Udoka Azubuike for the remainder of the season after an MRI exam Sunday revealed the 7-footer tore ligaments in his right hand during practice.
Jayhawks coach Bill Self said in a statement that X-rays taken after Friday’s practice did not show the severity of the injury. The MRI exam revealed the tendon tear, which is similar to a torn tendon Azubuike had in his opposite hand in December 2016 that sidelined him the remainder of his freshman season.
“The surgery date will be set early this week,” Self said. “The doctors expect a complete recovery and Udoka will be able to resume full basketball activities at some point this summer.”
The injury is a significant blow to the Jayhawks’ interior depth, not to mention their national title aspirations. The nation’s preseason No. 1 already has been playing without sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa, whose eligibility remains in question after his name surfaced in the FBI probe into apparel company adidas.
Self said recently that there has been no change in De Sousa’s status.
The Jayhawks (12-2, 1-1) lost 77-60 to Iowa State on Saturday in their first game without their bruising center from Nigeria. But that was a byproduct of 24 turnovers and some patchy work on defense rather than any issues in the paint, where Kansas had a dominant plus-15 advantage on the boards.
“We’ve been living on the razor’s edge a lot,” Self said. “Granted, we don’t have a lot of where we can go to guarantee us having a great possession. We really don’t have good ball-handlers right now.”
Azubuike had been rounding into the sure thing before his injury.
After missing time earlier this season with a sprained ankle, he had been on a tear the past couple of games. He had 23 points and nine boards in a blowout of Eastern Michigan, then had eight points and nine more rebounds in a comfortable win over No. 23 Oklahoma to begin defense of the Jayhawks’ Big 12 title.
The only other true center on the Kansas roster is relatively raw freshman David McCormack, which means Self could be forced to use smaller lineups again. He prefers to run with two big men but has leaned on four-guard lineups the past couple of seasons because of the configuration of his roster.
The starting lineup Self used Saturday featured Dedric Lawson in the post, with Marcus Garrett joining starters Lagerald Vick, Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson in a four-guard backcourt.
Whether that sticks when Kansas returns to the floor against TCU on Wednesday night remains to be seen.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff we’ve got to hammer out,” Self said, “and hopefully we can do it relatively soon. .... There’s no question, eventually you’re going to play like you practice. So certainly, we’ve got to be better in practice, I think, and that will probably translate to better performances in the games.”