Blocked shots key to Dickinson’s bounce-back performance

Kansas center Hunter Dickinson (1) knocks a shot away from Oklahoma forward Sam Godwin (10) during the first half on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024 at Allen Fieldhouse. Photo by Nick Krug

Hunter Dickinson has established himself as one of the preeminent college basketball players in a variety of domains over the course of four seasons. Blocking shots, though, has not necessarily been his calling card.

At Michigan, the center averaged about a block and a half per game; so far in his first season at Kansas he had been about half a block worse, prior to Saturday and hadn’t rejected a shot in either of the Jayhawks’ first two conference games.

That didn’t stop him from claiming — after a five-block, not to mention 24-point and 14-rebound showing against Oklahoma Saturday — that “they called me baby Olajuwon back in the day,” in a lighthearted reference to the Houston Rockets’ dominant center of the 1980s and 1990s, Hakeem the Dream.

“I’m sure they did,” KU coach Bill Self said, at the close of his postgame press conference, with a bemused smile. “I’m sure everybody called him baby Olajuwon.”

Dickinson may not quite have the athletic prowess to match Olajuwon — who averaged 3.1 blocks a season in his 19-year NBA career — but for at least one college game, Dickinson’s defensive effort and five blocks served as the centerpiece of his resurgent performance, after he had been hampered by foul trouble and a bruised knee in Wednesday’s loss at UCF.

Two of the blocks came in one-on-one post defense against OU’s Sam Godwin, but his best moments were when he helped his teammates out.

“I thought he did a good job of staying down,” Self said. “I don’t think he got lifted as much. I thought his defense was pretty good today, and he’s been a decent shot blocker on his man, but not as good away from the ball, and I thought today he was a better help shot blocker today.”

The Sooners were most effective on offense when they created off the dribble Saturday, one of the main reasons they were able to stay in the game for more than a half despite a pretty strong showing by KU. But two key dribble-drives by OU’s Otega Oweh — one on which he beat Johnny Furphy, one where he crossed over KJ Adams — got denied by Dickinson.

He said he had been working on “taking some more risks coming over.”

“Coach has been emphasizing (for) him to block and play defense a lot more than he’s used to,” Adams said.

The second block against Oweh was particularly pivotal because despite the OU guard’s effort to slide out of the way of his own shot, it clipped his back as it went out of bounds. That earned a crucial possession for KU as it led 51-46, in the midst of what became an 11-2 run. The Sooners’ coach Porter Moser praised that play by Dickinson postgame.

That was his fifth and final block, though he said, “I feel like I might have had more, honestly. I feel like they might have shorted me a couple.”

Asked later about Dickinson’s capabilities as a shot-blocker, though, Self said, “I think we should be happy with five.”

The mark matched Dickinson’s career high, which he most recently attained on March 5 of last season.

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