Gettin' Withey With It

Lately, Kansas center Jeff Withey has resembled nothing so much as the Kool-Aid Man - albeit a much taller, thinner version - breaking through the proverbial wall. He's earned conference and national Player of the Week honors, and in the process has made the Jayhawks that much tougher to deal with on the court.

There Jeff Withey sat Tuesday night, battered, scraped and sweating in the close quarters of the media room inside Bramlage Coliseum…and he was smiling.

If anyone has cause of late, it's Withey. Ten days ago, the junior 7-footer failed to take advantage of one of the smallest front lines in the Big 12, failing to log a single point and grabbing just four rebounds in a 74-71 loss to Missouri.

Since then, Withey has been a man possessed. He bounced back from his performance versus the Tigers with a stellar outing Feb. 8 in Waco, Texas, abusing the vaunted Bears length and athleticism in the post to the tune of 25 points, five rebounds and three blocks.

Three days later, when Oklahoma State rolled into Allen Fieldhouse, Withey turned in the best performance of his career, scoring 18 points, grabbing an astonishing 20 rebounds and blocking seven shots. The two outings were good enough to earn him the first Big 12 Player of the Week award of his career.

And then came Monday night's pivotal rivalry game on the road in Manhattan, Kan. Frank Martin's Wildcats are notoriously physical, and the crowd at Bramlage as intimidating at times as any outside the confines of Allen Fieldhouse.

How did Withey respond to the challenge? He put on his big boy pants and absolutely dominated the lane, again scoring 18 points to go with 11 rebounds and nine blocked shots.

When asked if he saw this run coming, the soft-spoken Californian just shrugged his shoulders and answered with an "I don't know," but teammate Tyshawn Taylor quickly interjected.

"Yeah he did," Taylor said, grinning from ear to ear. "Yeah he did. I felt it."

"I have the best teammates around," Withey added. "They lift me up all the time. In practice they're always on me, they never let me get away with anything."

His ongoing imitation of the Kool-Aid Man breaking through the wall has made the Jayhawks exceedingly dangerous at just the right time. So much is within the grasp of this team that many - most, even - would have thought impossible before the season. Big 12 titles, number one seeds, post-season success - they're all on the table.

In the past, despite his obvious improvement from a year ago, opposing defenses were largely able to key on National Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson without much fear of being beaten single-handedly by Withey. Now, his play is slowly but surely drawing the double and triple-teams away from Robinson, leaving both Kansas bigs with one-on-one match-ups.

Robinson has played at a high level all season and Taylor has been the best guard in the conference - if not the country - since Big 12 play started, but Withey's meteoric ascension has surprised even Head Coach Bill Self, who described his play Monday night as "just fabulous."

"But for somebody that's kind of come out of left field, I don't know if I can remember anybody as dominant," Self said. "(It's) such a bonus for us, because Thomas trusts him and those two should get better playing with each other as he continues to produce, and take pressure off him."

So that's why Withey was all smiles Monday night, despite the scrapes and bruises. The game is moving in slow motion for him right now.

But was he aware of how close he was to achieving the rare triple-double, for the second game in a row?

"I noticed it after the game," Withey said. "I'm going to get it sooner or later."

Kansas next plays Saturday night, when they play host to Texas Tech. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on the Big 12 network.


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