KU v Howard 2nd Hal Ernest Defense

Kansas freshman center Ernest Udeh Jr. plays close defense on a Howard player during the second half of the first round of the NCAA tournament at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa on Thursday, March 16.

The Kansas Jayhawks have a tough task ahead of them in the Arkansas Razorbacks for a chance to go to the Sweet 16. The Razorbacks are a successful team because of what they can do inside of the paint, as they rank 341st in 3-pointers made per game with just five. However, freshman center Ernest Udeh Jr. can help limit their production inside when he comes off the bench on Saturday.

The Razorbacks score just under 75 points per game, meaning they get about 60 points per game away from the three-point line. The Razorbacks are able to get to the free-throw line well, scoring over 15 points per game from the charity stripe. They rank 23rd in the nation in free throw attempts. 

Arkansas will attempt to establish a presence on the interior, and the Jayhawks will need an extra boost to help combat that. Acting head coach Norm Roberts hopes that Udeh can be that boost.

“Ernest is real important because of his length," Roberts said, "He gives us size. He doesn't give us the scoring ability that KJ [Adams] does, but he gives us more size there, the ability to block shots and protect the rim." 

Udeh’s offensive efficiency sticks out, as he shoots 79% from the floor, but his defensive energy is what’s given him a big role off of the bench this year. 

“The game starts with defense,” Udeh said. When you’re able to make the other team play bad, it plays in your favor whether you're shooting a great percentage, if shots are falling, or if shots are not.”

Udeh only has 17 blocked shots throughout the year, but protecting the rim involves more than blocking shots. Udeh understands that altering a shot can be just as important as blocking a shot. 

“Some people really don’t get that,” Udeh said. Some people might look at me and say, ‘he’s only got a block in a game or this, that a third,’ but you know when you’re altering shots, you’re forcing the opponent to shoot a shot he’s uncomfortable with as opposed to being able to put it right in front of your face for an easy block. 

Protecting the paint has been an emphasis since he arrived in Lawrence before his freshman season. 

“That’s really how it’s been for me always,” Udeh said. Even in practice if I’m going against Dajuan [Harris] and he’s coming off that ball screen, he knows I’m going to try to block it, so he’s shooting it outside of his body frame to try and get it in.”

Udeh will need to do exactly what he does to Harris in practice, as the Razorbacks will be looking to attack the paint and score over Udeh and sophomore forward KJ Adams, who starts over Udeh. 

The game will tip off at 4:15 p.m. on Saturday on CBS.