KU's Withey 'like the best goalie in the country'
MANHATTAN, Kan. — Shane Southwell nodded. He got it. He may not have liked it. But he got it.
You likened Jeff Withey to New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, a defender renowned for effectively cutting a football field in half. Doesn't Withey, the third-ranked Jayhawks' 7-foot center, basically do the same thing on the basketball court?
The Kansas State junior grinned knowingly.
"It's so hard, because he's like — I don't want to say he's like a Darrelle Revis. He's like the best goalie in the country," Southwell, the Wildcats' swingman, told FOX Sports Kansas City after No. 11 K-State fell at home to rival Kansas, 59-55.
"They funnel everyone into him and make you decide: What do you want to do?"
Here's what the Wildcats (15-3, 4-1 Big 12) wanted to do Tuesday night: shoot jumper after jumper after jumper. This is how you're going to beat the Jayhawks (17-1, 5-0). Or rather, how you aren't.
For the first time in his past 28 games, Withey didn't record a block, which is fairly remarkable. What's even more remarkable is that Tuesday night at Bramlage Coliseum provided perhaps the most glowing tribute yet to the sheer power and influence the Kansas big man has on the collegiate game.
K-State could've tested Withey, just as a quarterback could test Revis through the air. The Wildcats simply elected not to.
"Somewhere along the line, we have to get some more inside looks," said Wildcats coach Bruce Weber, now 0-1 as K-State's coach against the program, the giant his fan base wants so desperately to beat most.
"We have to get some penetration to the basket. Withey makes a difference in there. He didn't have a block, but that's maybe because … we didn't go in there and challenge him. As a coach, you make (such a) big of a deal (of him), that we did not go in there enough and see if he could get blocked shots."
Kansas protected the lane they way lions protect an antelope carcass. K-State was stuck with its faces pinned against the glass. The hosts took 57 shots. More than half were from beyond the arc.
Of those 30 attempts from 3-point range, 21 were misfires. Because of Withey's presence, the Wildcats, on their own court, turned into — well, Belmont. Forays into the paint were few and far between.
It's hard to win while shooting jumpers over 40 minutes. It's even harder to get to the foul line. Kansas went to the charity stripe 21 times to K-State's seven, in K-State's backyard, no less. It wasn't a coincidence.
"We have a saying that closer is not better, but open is better," Weber said. "I know you have to make them, but if you pass up that open shot, run a play, have someone (free) out of motion or you pass it up. It seems like every time we did that, we got ourselves in a bind."
For a 17-1 beast, the Jayhawks aren't that hard to decipher. Southwell said the Wildcats' scouting report told them the first key to hanging with Kansas is making those jumpers consistently.
The trouble is that the prospect is easier in theory than it is in practice. With Travis Releford hounding him, K-State sharpshooter Rodney McGruder was just 3-for-9 on treys and had just two points on four field-goal attempts in the first half. Kansas senior Elijah Johnson may be more comfortable as a wing guard than at the point, but his defense hasn't suffered much. K-State point man Angel Rodriguez was 4-for-10 from the floor and misfired on four of five 3-point tries.
Southwell's outside shooting — he was 5-for-11 on treys — kept the Wildcats within shouting distance, but Kansas coach Bill Self was willing to let him do the bulk of the damage. K-State's top three perimeter threats, McGruder, Rodriguez and Will Spradling, were a combined 4-for-19 from beyond the arc.
"Our game plan every game is to not let them get in the paint," offered Releford, the Jayhawks' top on-ball defender. "And I think we did a good job of that, which, I think, is what forced them to shoot a lot of 3's."
Desperation played a role, too. When Kansas star Ben McLemore was forced to sit with two fouls for much of the second half, fellow underclassmen Perry Ellis (8 points, 4 boards) and Naadir Tharpe (6 points, 2 assists) stepped in to fill the void.
When Withey was forced to sit with three fouls midway through the second half, there was McLemore, all of 6-foot-5 of him, skying to the rim to swat away a rare K-State layup. After a McGruder trey had cut the Jayhawks' lead to 45-41 with 11:59 left in the contest, there was McLemore, personally outscoring K-State 7-5 over the next five minutes. The St. Louis native's jumper from the wing at the 6:53 mark pushed the lead up to 53-43.
"They just find ways to win," Weber observed glumly.
After a while, the Jayhawks start to wear on your collective psyche. The second key, K-State's coaches had told their kids, was preventing Kansas' run-outs, quick baskets off long misses, blocks and steals. The Wildcats didn't exactly shine there, either, turning it over 10 times — seven in the second half alone — and allowing the Jayhawks 14 points on fast-break opportunities.
"They're so quick — one of the quickest teams in the country," Southwell continued. "(Weber) told us they were going to be packed in, and they really like to sag on defense."
Belmont took 38 shots from behind the arc against the Jayhawks. Richmond took 32. Ohio State took 31. Iowa State took 38. K-State took 30. It's a percentage game, one Self is happy to keep playing until it bites him.
"I felt of the 30 threes we shot," Southwell observed, "20 of them were pretty open."
Southwell shook his head and cast a look of regret at the ground, the realization of another opportunity missed. A few minutes earlier, as Tharpe walked off the floor, he'd flashed the 'KANSAS' on the front of his jersey to the K-State pep band, posing defiantly on the Bramlage floor.
The message was as clear as it was undeniable. The lions had just nabbed another antelope, and the Jayhawks are back atop the Big 12 food chain. Alone.
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