One year ago, Jeff Withey was a rarely utilized seven-footer who averaged close to two points in six minutes per game. Excuse me for sounding like a nostalgic grandparent for a moment, but they grow up so fast, don’t they?
Withey was integral in Kansas’ 64-62 win over Ohio State on Saturday night in New Orleans, which punched the Jayhawks’ ticket to the national title game and a date with No. 1 Kentucky.
The San Diego native finished with four points, eight rebounds, and seven blocks.
“My teammates definitely look at me and see me as a protector,” Withey said after the game. “They know if they get beat, I’m there. I’m there to help them block shots.”
The monstrous seven-block performance gives him 27 total blocks in the NCAA tournament, two shy of the record 29, set in 2006 by Florida’s Joakim Noah.
Kansas’ next opponent, Kentucky, features a player who is also inching his way up that list, having blocked 23 shots in this NCAA tournament: AP Player of the Year Anthony Davis.
“Anthony Davis is the best shot blocker in the country, but I think Jeff is probably second best,” said Kansas coach Bill Self. “I don’t know anybody out there that blocks shots or alters better than Jeff does. So you’re going to have two great shot‑blockers going against each other.”
And he showed on Saturday night why his coach and many others hold him in such high regard.
Withey was the main reason why Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger never found his rhythm, going 5-for-19 from the field and only shooting four total free throws.
But Monday night in New Orleans may be a wholly different experience against Davis and the Wildcats, and Withey recognizes that.
“It’s going to be a lot different because Anthony Davis…he gets a lot of points off of lobs in transition,” said Withey. “It’s going to be a lot different guarding them, but it’s going to be a challenge that I enjoy playing. I just got to get ready for the game and be in shape.”