Tight end on Kansas football team lends the Jayhawks a hand in Big 12 Tournament win

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – If it all goes South for Kansas this postseason, there's always James Sosinski.

The invited walk-on/scholarship football tight end played only 85 seconds in Thursday's 82-68 Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal win over Oklahoma State. But his appearance provided a peek at the depths KU has to go to make up for its lack of …. depth.

Until further notice, the nation's most accurate shooter 7-foot, 280-pound Udoka Azubuike (77.4 percent) is out with a Grade 1 MCL sprain.

But the kid Bill Self calls KU's best low-post defender against Azubuike in practice suddenly found himself bailing out his teammates late in the first half.

With Kansas' two-headed replacement posts Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa in foul trouble, Sosinski took one for the team, eating up 1:25 and getting KU to halftime leading 43-42.

"He wasn't exactly part of the game plan going in," Self said.

Pretty much everyone has had to pitch in on Kansas' magical mystery tour this season. Billy Preston, a coveted post presence, crashed his car early in the season. That started an investigation into the finances surrounding that car that never concluded.

Preston eventually left to play in Europe.

While Kansas lost post depth, hundreds of other teams would kill for what Kansas did have – Lightfoot and De Sousa. Lightfoot, a sophomore forward, and De Sousa, a freshman from Angola who didn't play until January, combined for 14 points and 14 rebounds on Thursday.

A double-double from that two-headed backup calmed an anxious fan base who sometimes don't know how good they have it.

Now, does KU believe it can keep winning into March with Lightfoot and De Sousa replacing Azubuike?

"I definitely think so," Sosinksi said. "We don't go into any game thinking we're going to lose. (Azubuike's) going to come back and he's had a great attitude. Even if he doesn't, our attitude showed today we can win without him."

Kansas was able to play its usual four (guards) out, one (post) in offense Thursday, just not as efficiently as with Azubuike.

Lightfoot fouled out after contributing eight points and six rebounds. Judging by the invective emerging from Self's mouth, De Sousa is still a work in progress. His eight rebounds (to go with six points) was a career high, but …

"He knows that sometimes he just makes bonehead plays," Self said.

"Silvio, if he'd been a high school senior this year probably would have been a McDonald's All-American," Self added. "But there is a big difference in a high school on Dec 22 and being a college kid on Dec 26. He's gradually gotten better every day.

"He frustrates me because I think he should be a much better rebounder."

Again, these are problems that hundreds of Division I teams don't have. But when you're winning a 14th consecutive conference title and chasing another No. 1 seed, these little things matter.

According to Self, Sosinski's dad ran into basketball assistant Norm Roberts and relayed his son's desire to walk on in basketball.

Sosinski was on his third school and second sport. He played football at UMass as a freshman and transferred to a Phoenix-area juco for basketball before joining David Beaty's football team.

He joined KU basketball Dec. 6 contributing six points in three games before Thursday's late first-half foul.

"He fouled as soon as he got in," Self quipped. "He was holding. It should have been 10 yards."

Better known (maybe) as a scholarship tight end on KU's football team, Sosinski threw his body around for a minute and a half sparing Lightfoot and De Sousa any more foul damage.

"When I committed to Kansas in football, I never expected this," said Sosinski, a 6-foot-7, 250-pound forward who could pass for a Breakfast Club-era Judd Nelson.

Kansas cruised, ridding itself of its biggest nuisance this season. The Cowboys (19-14) became the only team to sweep KU in regular-season Big 12 play in Self's 15 seasons.

Malik Newman's career-high 30 had to take a back seat to what mattered more to the sold out Sprint Center. While Oklahoma State sweats out the bubble, Kansas continues to ponder life without Azubuike.

"We can play a little faster and be a little scrappier," Newman said, "and the guards, we are able to dictate the offense a little bit more instead of trying to play through the big fella a lot more.'"

Yeah, but for how long?

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