Fred Hoiberg made a couple changes to his starting lineup for Nebraska’s game at Maryland. The first—Jervay Green replacing Dachon Burke Jr.—was out of necessity as Burke missed the game with an illness.
The second change was a coaching decision, however. After 23 consecutive starts to begin his career, Yvan Ouedraogo moved to the bench as Hoiberg had Kevin Cross Jr. start at the five against Maryland and Wisconsin.
At that point, Ouedraogo was averaging 5.2 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting just 39.5% from the field. Cross was slightly more productive offensively at 7.5 points per game, but he wasn’t any more efficient, shooting 37.4% from the field and 29.9% from 3.
Still, what Cross gives up in size compared to Ouedraogo he makes up in the ability to stretch the floor and make plays—at least theoretically. Late in January, Cross put up 17 points and shot 3-of-5 from 3 twice in a three-game stretch. Derek Peterson wrote about the upside of that unit.
The idea didn’t manifest itself on the court, however. Cross scored nine points on 3-of-16 shooting including 2-of-11 from 3 in his two starts.
Meanwhile, instead of moping about losing his starting spot, Ouedraogo continued to work. Against the Terrapins, he played 16 minutes off the bench, finishing all three of his shots and splitting a pair of free throws for seven points while grabbing four rebounds. He played 19 minutes against Wisconsin, scoring eight points on 3-of-6 from the field and 2-of-6 from the foul line and pulling down 10 rebounds.
Ouedraogo was back in the starting lineup the next game against Michigan State. He played 21 minutes, scoring 10 points on 4-of-6 from the field and 2-of-3 from the line with seven rebounds.
“He’s continued to come in and get work in,” Hoiberg said after the game. “He’s in a full lather before practice, getting in with Coach [Armon] Gates 40 minutes before and going through all kinds of finishes. You see that work paying off. He’s finishing at the basket better, I thought he really battled [Xavier] Tillman, one of the top bigs in this league, in the nation. He gave him everything he could handle as a 17-year-old, so that was great.”
On Monday, Ouedraogo had a chance to take on another big-time Big Ten big man in Illinois freshman Kofi Cockburn. Cockburn had a double-double with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting and 10 rebounds, but Ouedraogo had his own double-double with 12 points on 5-of-9 from the field and 10 boards. In a 12-point loss, Nebraska was only minus-3 in Ouedraogo’s 27 minutes, second-best on the team behind Akol Arop (plus-7 in three minutes).
Cockburn got the better of Ouedraogo on his first post touch, spinning baseline and finishing through contact to draw Ouedraogo’s first foul. A couple players later, though, Ouedraogo went right back at him and used an up-and-under move to leave him in his dust and score at the rim. Ouedraogo pulled off a couple more post moves throughout the night. More importantly, he didn’t miss any easy bunnies—his misses were pretty well contested.
It was his second double-double, but the first one came against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi back in December. Considering level of competition, Monday was arguably the best performance of Ouedraogo’s young career.
Over those four games––arguably his best four-game stretch as a Husker––Ouedraogo is averaging 9.0 points on 62.5% shooting and 7.8 rebounds. He’s just four rebounds shy of breaking Aleks Maric’s freshman rebounding record of 169 set in 2004–05. During the Illinois game, Ouedraogo passed Dan Hoppen, Venson Hamilton and John Turek on that list.
And, again, it’s worth emphasizing that he won’t turn 18 until March 22.
Even with his recent surge, there are still some glaring areas in his game that need improvement. He’s just 6-of-13 from the foul line during the last four games and is shooting 49.2% on the season. He’s also much a much better rebounder on the offensive end at this point than on the defensive end where he fails to box out far too often.
Nebraska’s been stuck in a rut for 12 games now—the same problems have popped up game after game resulting in loss after loss. In a season full of failure, Ouedraogo starting to figure things out would be the kind of small victories Nebraska should be looking for in this final stretch of the season.
Only time will tell if his recent play is sustainable, but he certainly looks like a different player than the one who scored two points in 26 minutes against Rutgers back on Jan. 25.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.