NEW ORLEANS -- As he left Baylor's temporary locker room in the bowels of New Orleans Arena en route to his press conference after the Bears' second-round win over Old Dominion, coach
It took no small amount of effort -- Drew is, as they say, vertically challenged -- but the seventh-year coach at the world's largest Baptist university had much to be grateful for, which he expressed by greeting each player with a handshake and a "thank you, sir" after the game.
That win over ODU -- giving Baylor its first trip to the Sweet 16, in a season in which the Big 12's coaches voted Baylor 10th in the preseason -- was a balanced team effort, from
But undeniably the Bears' MVP this season has been junior transfer
When Udoh arrived at Baylor after two years at Michigan, he was a specialist who had made the Big Ten's all-defensive team and who had broken
Udoh is also, however, the rare major-conference player who understood his need for drastic improvement and was glad to redshirt last season because of his transfer.
"I needed a year off to improve anyway," Udoh says.
Working primarily with assistant coach
That practice success has carried over to this season: Udoh is now averaging 13.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists.
"He really maximized his redshirt year," assistant
While the defensive improvement is easy to see -- Baylor jumped from No. 161 in the country in field-goal percentage defense (43.3 percent) to No. 7 (38.3), and Udoh set another school's blocks record -- the offensive change is significant, though less drastic. Udoh's improved handle and already strong passing skills have given Baylor a more balanced offense. He can play either point forward or simply kick the ball out to Carter or Dunn on the perimeter.
While last year's top post player,
"This is the first year we've able to run things through the post, which has created a balance," Morefield says. "Defenses have to be honest with [Udoh], which opens up driving lanes."
According to Baylor's internal stats, last year in Big 12 play the Bears ran 61 percent of their offense through the paint and scored on 60 percent of those possessions. This year in league games Baylor reached the paint on 64 percent of its offensive possessions and scored 66 percent.
Those may seem like small changes, but Baylor averages about 68 possessions per game, so the improvements led to one or two additional baskets per game. Considering five of the Bears' Big 12 games this season were decided by four points or fewer, two baskets can go a long way. By
And Udoh has added one more dimension to Baylor's offense: the buzzer-beater. Twice he has hit game-winning shots in the final two seconds (against Hartford and Missouri) and in a third game, against Missouri, he hit the go-ahead bucket with 26 seconds remaining.
"It's Kobe time," Udoh says of late-game situations. "When it gets down the stretch, I don't think there's a better closer in the game than
He says none of his winning shots have been true Kobe, but some of them have been "Kobe-esque." Considering his contributions this season, all Baylor needs is more Udoh time.