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Block Party at the Ferrell Center

Jan. 20, 2010

Udoh providing much-needed defensive spark for men's basketball, efforts echoing throughout team

Forward on pace to shatter school single-season block record

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Daniel Cernero | Lariat staff
Ekpe Udoh (middle) blocks James Anderson's lay up during Saturday's 83-70 victory against Oklahoma State University. Udoh leads the Big 12 and is fourth in the nation with 4.4 blocks per game.

By Justin Baer
Sports editor

University of Oklahoma sophomore All-American Willie Warren notices a gaping hole in Baylor's zone defense. While Bears' center Josh Lomers is occupied with 6-foot-10, 295-pound mammoth Tiny Gallon, there is a capacious alley to the basket left unattended. Warren makes a quick cut to the hoop in hopes of exploiting Baylor's lapse.

Gallon threads a pass to him, and just as Warren goes up for the easy basket, the dangling arms of Ekpe Udoh descend upon him. Udoh violently swats Warren's shot, and the crowd explodes with ruckus.

Whether it's salvaging a mistake, or punishing those who dare to attack him, Udoh's presence beneath the basket has made riveting effects to opposing coach's game plans.

"Ekpe just being on the court makes everyone better," Lomers said. "He is amazing offensively and defensively. He is somebody (opposing teams) are always having to worry about, so it makes everyone's job a little bit easier."

The self-proclaimed "Nightmare" has been the cornerstone of Baylor's defensive turnaround. Notoriously known as a jack-it-up team on offense that is lackadaisical on defense, Udoh's intensity on defense has reverberated throughout the squad and is a prominent reason why Baylor is third in the Big 12 with 62.4 points per game allowed, compared to last year's squad that was 10th in the league allowing 70.1 points per game.

"This is the best Baylor team since I have been (at Oklahoma)," said Sooners' head coach Jeff Capel, whose 90-61 defeat against Baylor was the first for the school since 1974. "They are different. What is different about them is defense."

Udoh transferred from the University of Michigan after his sophomore year as the third-leading blocker in school history with 159 shots blocked and earned a spot on the Big 10 All-Defensive team. While it's probable he would have eclipsed Courtney Sims's record of 213, Udoh has already dented the Baylor record books. Udoh's 4.4 blocks per game rank first in school history, and his 68 total blocks are the fifth-highest amount in a single season. (The top four spots belong to current Los Angeles Clipper Brian Skinner.)

Furthermore, Udoh became only the fifth player in school history to record a triple-double on when he posted 18 points, 17 rebounds and 10 blocks on Jan. 6 against Morgan State University. But Udoh humbly admits that his statistics are irrelevant. As a disruptive force in the paint, Udoh prides himself with his defensive prowess, but credits his teammates for supporting him throughout each game.

Teammate Tweety Carter has become highly fond of Udoh since he has come to Baylor. Carter cites Udoh's passion for the game as the underlying reason for his instant success.

"To have him out there knowing he wants to do those types of things, to have him on my side is big," Carter said. "As long as we keep playing, he is going to continue to get stats like this, because that is the type of player he is. He wants to be the best player on the floor no matter what, even in practice."

Udoh has quickly become a fan favorite, and it's easy to see why. The Bears have longed for a commanding post-presence since the days of Skinner, and Udoh may have more tangibles than Baylor's all-time leading shot blocker. According to ESPN.com's Chad Forde, Udoh could sneak in as a lottery pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. However, many expect Udoh's stock to rise further if his dominance continues in a premier conference like the Big 12.

While Drew would love to see Udoh stick around another year, especially with one of the nation's top big-man recruits Perry Jones coming in, he realizes he must reap the benefits Udoh provides this season. The obvious benefits include blocked shots, but Drew said Udoh's presence extends further than displacing shot attempts.

"The times he doesn't block shots and alters, he affects or even has people going in there hesitant, I think that number's a lot larger than the actual blocked shot numbers," Drew said. "So when you combine both of those you can see what a huge impact he has on the game. As far as when he does block a shot, it's an easy way for us to get quick transition.

"Ekpe's one of those blockers who can keep the ball in play after he blocks and does a great job allowing us to get transition with that. But again, I think how he alters and affects the other part of the game is greater than just the number of shots he does block."

Udoh's recipe for blocking shots comes from obvious length and height. The Edmond, Okla., native possesses an 88-inch wingspan to coincide with a 6-foot-10 frame. However, Udoh claims that the yearning for defensive success separates him from other great defenders.

"I think I've been blessed with being long and tall," Udoh said. "But I think it's really just a want to play defense and block shots. You have to have a desire to do anything in life, and if you put your mind to it, you can do it."