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Oklahoma entered Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday leading the league in scoring offense and field goal percentage.
The Sooners' often prolific offense hit a wall against Kansas center Jeff Withey.
Oklahoma shot just over 35 percent in a 67-54 loss to the third-ranked Jayhawks, and Sooners coach Lon Kruger was quick to credit their struggles to the 7-foot senior.
Withey who finished with 13 points, nine rebounds, four blocks and three steals.
"Withey changes everything on the interior and does a terrific job," said Kruger, who is no stranger to struggling against the Jayhawks after coaching at Kansas State. "I thought he set the tone early in the ball game and we just never did get any flow offensively."
The Sooners shot 28.6 percent in the first half but kept the game within reach by forcing eight turnovers. But Kansas built a double-digit lead in the second half and pulled away.
The Sooners were outscored 28-16 in the paint and outrebounded 41-31 - much of that influenced by Withey, of course.
"He's seven feet tall with long arms," said Romero Osby, who was 4 of 16 from the floor and finished with 12 points. "He bothers everyone."
Jeff Withey made life miserable for Oklahoma in just about every way possible.
Blocked shots? The Jayhawks' 7-footer had four of them.
Steals? Three of those, too.
He also had 13 points and nine rebounds to polish off his afternoon, helping the third-ranked Jayhawks to a 67-54 victory on Saturday, their nation-leading 17th in a row.
Withey even had an assist when he fed Travis Releford in transition for an easy basket.
"He was terrific. Jeff played great," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "The mistakes we made in the first half, he erased a lot of them, which led to points. We didn't do much offensively at all, but we got easy baskets off his defense when we got out and ran."
Withey got out and ran, too.
Late in the game, Releford returned the favor by coming up with a steal and pushing the ball to Naadir Tharpe, who hit the 7-footer on the fast break for a dunk that helped to seal the game.
"I can think of better options than him leading the break," Self said with a smile, "but the way we played today, he may have been as good as our guards."
All the supernatural spirits that haunt opponents at Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse were held at bay by Oklahoma on Saturday.
The 16,300 in attendance didn’t bother OU. It dodged giving up the huge run that typically spells doom against the Jayhawks. However, there was one very real presence that spooked the Sooners in their 67-54 loss to the third-ranked Jayhawks: The long arms and big hands of Kansas center Jeff Withey. The 7-footer cast a haunting shadow from the opening tip.
“He bothers people. I think I kind of let it get in my head a little bit that I missed a couple shots,” OU’s Romero Osby said. “I was making everything in warm-ups. I thought I was going to have a great game. Sometimes it happens like that. It's back to the drawing board.”
There were a couple scenarios that would have allow OU to end a nine-game losing streak to Kansas that dated back to 2005. Osby playing well was a cog in all of them. He entered the game shooting 53.3 percent from the field and was the focal point of everything the Sooners did on the offensive end.
However, Osby went 4 for 16 en route to 12 points. It seemed like every shot he took — even the jumpers — he was seeing Withey’s hand out of the corner of his eye.
Osby's lack of production did not just happen. Kansas senior Jeff Withey happened.
The Jayhawks' 7-foot center is one of the nation's best shot blockers. Saturday night, he had a debilitating effect on the Sooners, especially Osby.
For Osby, it was tough to get open. He constantly felt enveloped in Withey's 7-foot, 1 1/2 inch wingspan.
It was tough to get Withey to bite on a fake. It was tough, Osby said, to even see over him.
“Especially when he has his arms up,” said Osby, whose eye level was almost perfectly even with Withey's shoulders. “You can see around him because he's not real big, but it's hard to see over him.”
And for Osby, it was tough to keep Withey from getting in his head.
After making an early layup, Osby went up for a dunk with Oklahoma leading 5-4 and missed it.
When Osby's feet hit the court, he looked irritated and muttered under his breath.
Kansas scored the next five points.
Osby made only one other shot in the first half and had one shot blocked by Withey. The Sooners went into halftime down 29-21.
The second half, though, is when Withey's effect really took hold on Osby.
Osby opened the half 0 for 4 and didn't make a basket until the 11:21 mark.
“Withey Block Party” made its debut on the Allen Fieldhouse scoreboard Saturday afternoon, to the delight of 16,300 fans, including Mark Randall.
Randall, a former Kansas University power forward and first-round NBA Draft pick who works in community relations for the Denver Nuggets, peered at the big board during a second-half timeout as Jeff Withey was shown not only blocking four of Oklahoma’s shots in a 67-54 Jayhawk men’s basketball victory, but also dancing in disco attire.
“It’s been great watching him grow over the time he’s been here,” the 6-foot-9 Randall said of 7-footer Withey, whose productive first half (four blocks, seven rebounds, nine points) helped set the tone as KU led, 29-21, at the break.
“One thing about Oklahoma that surprised me is, they were unbelievably athletic, and their big guys were extremely athletic. The guards were doing a good job of getting inside, but guess what? Jeff’s back there cleaning everything up,” Randall added of Withey, who finished with 13 points and nine rebounds to go with the four rejections.
“I’m not in personnel any more, but if you are tall and have the kind of skill level he’s got, he’s going to find a niche in the NBA. He’s a shot-blocker. He’s developing his game in the low post. The biggest thing he has to do is learn to use his butt more, so he can hold his position down there. It comes with time. He has a series of moves he’s obviously learned. He’s working on it.”
Withey seemed to affect the entire OU offense. The Sooners’ 54 points were their second-lowest total this season.
“They’ve got a lot of guys on the perimeter that guard the ball very well, and Withey changes everything on the interior and does a terrific job,” Kruger said. “I thought he really set the tone early in the ballgame. We just never did get any flow offensively.”
OU also posted its lowest halftime score (21 points) since the 2010-11 season.
With Withey guarding the paint, the box score showed that the Sooners finished just 6-for-14 on layups and dunks (43 percent).
“He’s a unique player, not only in our league, but in college basketball in terms of ... you don’t play against those types of players very often,” Kruger said. “He erases any mistakes on the perimeter, plus he guards his own guy inside. He not only blocks a lot of shots but changes a lot of shots and does that to a lot of people.”
Elijah Johnson would like to see the ball start dropping through the basket.
“It’s a little frustrating right now, because I feel like my numbers, as far as shooting, haven’t shown how well I can really shoot,” Johnson, Kansas University’s senior point guard, said after scoring eight points off 3-of-8 shooting (2-of-6 from three) in the Jayhawks’ 67-54 victory over Oklahoma in Allen Fieldhouse.
“I don’t feel that I have shot to my potential at all. All of my shots are limited because I don’t shoot that many. I need something to start falling for me, but I’m not focused on it too much. They’ll fall.”
The 6-foor-4 Las Vegas native has hit 39.8 percent of his floor shots — 34.6 percent of his threes — for the Jayhawks (18-1 overall, 6-0 Big 12). He hit 43 percent of his shots (33.8 from three) a year ago.
Johnson did not score or dish an assist while playing just nine minutes the first half Saturday. Two quick fouls cut into his playing time.
“Those two fouls the first half were wasted plays. He took himself out of the game. The second half, he played a lot better,” coach Bill Self said. “It (fouling) was a lack of focus on his part.”
…McLemore, who went 5-for-5 from the free-throw line, is 23-for-26 in six Big 12 games. ... Travis Releford has scored in double-digits in 15-straight games. Releford’s five assists were his most since a career-best six against Colorado (12/8). ... Jeff Withey took sole possession of third-place on KU’s career blocked shots list. Withey has 247, just 11 shy of tying KU’s all-time record (Greg Ostertag, 258). ... Johnson had two assists and is tied with Calvin Thompson for 20th place on the KU career assists list.
Faces in crowd: Former KU frontcourt players Eric Chenowith, Mark Randall and Wayne Simien attended and sat in the same row behind the KU bench. Royals announcer Denny Matthews attended and spoke with Self after the game, the two chatting about baseball. What else?
Take a good hard look, because the team you saw Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse might be your new No. 1.
And no, we’re not talking about the Fargo-Moorhead dance team that performed at halftime.
We’re talking about the Kansas Jayhawks, the team that ran its winning streak to 17 games by dispatching Oklahoma 67-54. The Jayhawks, ranked No. 3 by The Associated Press and No. 2 in the coaches poll, will have a case for the No. 1 spot soon to be vacated by Duke, although the case presented Saturday wasn’t exactly airtight.
The Jayhawks played well enough to win, as they seem to do every time they take the court. As for the No. 1 ranking, coach Bill Self insisted the Jayhawks were neither ready nor deserving, which doesn’t mean he’ll be upset if the Jayhawks get it.
“Somebody’s got to do it,” Self said. “If it’s us, that would be great. I never would have thought before the season that this team would be ranked No. 1 at any point in time.”
KU has climbed toward No. 1 in the most basic way possible, by not losing. A bad game for someone else might be a blowout loss, but KU’s bad games have looked a lot like Saturday. The Jayhawks had a few too many turnovers and didn’t shoot especially well, but they limited Oklahoma to 36 percent from the floor and never seemed in danger of losing their second-half lead.
The ranking has been earned, in other words, even if KU hasn’t been leaving a path of burning rubble in its wake.
“I’m perfectly fine with the way we’re winning right now,” point guard Elijah Johnson said, “because I know that down the stretch we’ll figure it out.”
For the better part of a month, the Jayhawks have been impressive without being a juggernaut, persistent winners without much style. Now, after the third-ranked Jayhawks (18-1 and 6-0 in the Big 12) extended their winning streak to 17 games, these poll questions are only natural.
All across America on Saturday — and really all last week — top-10 teams were dropping like flies. No. 1 Duke. co-No. 3 Syracuse. No. 5 Louisville.
The Jayhawks, meanwhile, have been college basketball’s answer to a relentless machine, bland and mechanical. In the last five games, opponents are averaging just 51.6 points per game, a feat that hasn’t been equaled in the Self era at Kansas.
When the new polls are released Monday — depending on No. 2 Michigan’s result at Illinois on Sunday — Kansas will likely find itself in the top two in both major polls, and perhaps No. 1 in the coaches poll, where it sits in the second position.
“We always felt like we could be one of the best teams in the country, and right now we get a chance to do it,” senior guard Elijah Johnson said. “That’s the only reason I pay it mind, not because of somebody’s opinion to put us No. 1.”
…“This team has less of a margin for error, so that’s why it disappoints me. Because they know. We’ve had seven NBA players on one team. And if those guys didn’t have their ‘A’ game, then their ‘B’ game or ‘C’ game focus-wise could still be OK. We’re not like that now.”
Maybe not. But as the rest of America lost, Kansas found another way to win.
Big 12/College News
OK, Saturday was certainly a crazy day of basketball. Two top-five teams fell, NC State sent a message, La Salle made moves, Wisconsin won on a last-second shot -- we'll get to all of that. What was everyone talking about at the end of the day? The GIF above, of course.
It's of Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson taunting the Auburn student section, shortly after hitting two game-winning free throws in the final seconds. Watch it about 30 times, then you can truly dive into the analysis.
Saturday's game between Providence and Marquette was delayed multiple times in the second half -- but not for an injury or a fight.
A rogue bat created plenty of problems, nearly blindsiding Providence big man Sidiki Johnson in the head (below) and also ducking and dodging players and coaches throwing towels at it mid-flight (above). Another time, it flew right past the Marquette bench, but the Golden Eagles got out of the way.
At one point, arena officials turned out the lights because the bat was attracted to the court -- and the bat wasn't seen again.