Wichita State sophomore Dexter Dennis interrupted the interview session on Tuesday, laughing and smiling as he said, “I’m looking for Shaquille O’Neal.”
That description fit one Shocker on the interview platform – center Morris Udeze.
Dennis and Udeze shook hands. Udeze looked a little sheepish about the comparison to the NBA great and Dennis departed after bringing the spotlight to his previously overshadowed teammate after a 74-52 win over Gardner-Webb.
“Nice to meet you,” Dennis said. “You guys played good tonight.”
Udeze, a 6-foot-8 sophomore from Houston, deserves that shine after his past two performances. He scored a career-high 15 points against Gardner-Webb, three days after scoring 14 against UT Martin. In those two games, he made 12 of 16 shots and 5 of 7 free throws.
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Not long ago, it wasn’t clear how much of a role Udeze would play behind starting center Jaime Echenique and backup Asbjorn Midtgaard. Those two helped the Shockers surge to the NIT semifinals last season while Udeze sat out after mid-season shoulder surgery.
Echenique is sidelined with a hand injury, suffered in a closed scrimmage against Nebraska, and Midtgaard struggled in his starting assignment. That gave Udeze a chance to seize playing time.
“I’m really excited for him,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “At one point (Udeze) was talking about redshirting when he was rehabbing that shoulder. Those shoulders are a problem.”
Udeze, who played in 16 games as a freshman before surgery, worked over the off-season to get healthy and improve his scoring around the basket. Both projects look in good shape as he grabbed the starting job for the first time against UT Martin.
“All summer I’ve been working hard to get back to where I was last year and then get even better,” he said. “I’ve been working with (coaches) to try to get my hooks right and to keep on grinding every day.”
Udeze is exactly that – a grinder who isn’t going to score with flashy moves or stretch defenses with his jump shot. When guards get him the ball near the basket, he uses his power and height to score over and through defenders.
We lead it 11-6 with 15:51 remaining in the first half. pic.twitter.com/6jA1ruaYuN
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“I’ve seen a lot of toughness out of him down low,” guard Erik Stevenson said. “I throw it on the block to him and I feel like it’s going to go in.”
For the season, Udeze averages 10 points while playing 15.3 minutes a game. He is shooting 64 percent (16 of 25) from the field and 8 of 10 from the foul line. He averages four rebounds and has blocked three shots in four games.
After two subpar offensive games, Wichita State spent a week of practice working on passing, screening and cutting and cutting down on selfish play. Udeze benefited from guards letting the offense work and feeding the ball into the post.
“I feel like I’m sticking with the game plan, mentally focused, physically focused,” he said. “I credit the guards for doing a good job passing inside to the bigs. Coach always tells us to screen. Me doing that opens up the offense for guards.”
Echenique may soon return. Udeze’s recent play makes the Shockers deeper in the post, which bulwarks them against foul trouble and injury. Echenique is happy to see his fellow post player add to his game.
He looks more confident,” Echenique said. “He is being really aggressive around the basket, taking advantage of his size.”
Watch Oral Roberts vs. Wichita State men’s basketball – Saturday, Nov. 23rd at 2:00 pm CT on Yurview Kansas (Cox Ch. 2022) and streaming on yurview.com.