Kansas coach Bill Self says Udoka Azubuike could play in 'emergency' situations

WICHITA, Kan. -- Kansas coach Bill Self says he is encouraged with Udoka Azubuike's progress and that the big man could be available in an "emergency-type situation" when the top-seeded Jayhawks open the NCAA tournament against No. 16 seed Penn on Thursday.

The 7-foot-0 sophomore hurt a ligament in his left knee last week, sidelining him for the ninth-ranked Jayhawks' run to the Big 12 tournament title. He returned to the floor for a light workout Sunday.

"I am encouraged. I really am," Self said Tuesday of Azubuike's progress. "And I am not being overly optimistic. He's been on the court the last three days. Today he ran on the court, and stopped and started, and changed directions. He's still not 100 percent. But they say it's one of those things it can get a lot better in a very short amount of time."

On Wednesday, Self said Azubuike continues to improve and that a decision on his availability will be made at game time.

"I'm not overly optimistic he can play significant minutes or be -- you know, be a real positive force inside for us," Self said. "But I do think that he can be out there, and if he can play at 80 percent or 70 percent and be confident, we may use him a few minutes."

Azubuike has been a dominant force in the paint this season, averaging 13.7 points and 7.1 boards while giving the Jayhawks their only consistent low-post presence.

"Our hope is that he could be available Thursday in an emergency-type situation," Self said Tuesday. "But the reality of it is he's probably not going to be able to practice before Thursday. I've never liked playing guys until they practiced when they are coming off an injury."

Self added that the goal would be for Azubuike to see extended minutes in the second round Saturday.

Some of the pressure to get Azubuike back on the floor was assuaged with the emergence of Silvio De Sousa during the Big 12 tournament. The 6-foot-9 forward, who joined the team after graduating from high school in December, had 16 points and 10 rebounds against West Virginia in the title game.

De Sousa held his own against physical Mountaineers big man Sagaba Konate, giving the Jayhawks a certain toughness they might have lacked without Azubuike in the lineup.

ESPN's Jeff Borzello contributed to this report.