LAWRENCE — — For a 7-footer who grew up near the beaches of San Diego, Jeff Withey needed a little time to soak in the significance of Kansas basketball history. But after four-plus years of living in Lawrence, Withey has most of the big stuff down.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
That’s good, because Withey, a senior center, will soon put his own name among the Jayhawk achievements. Withey enters Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State with 251 career blocked shots, just seven blocks behind all-time KU leader Greg Ostertag. (He’s two behind former teammate Cole Aldrich in second.)
Withey, who is averaging 4.3 blocks per game this season, would need a dominant afternoon to pick up the record against the Cowboys (14-5 overall and 4-3 in the Big 12), but it wouldn’t be unthinkable. Withey, who posted a career high of 12 blocks against San Jose State on Nov. 26, has blocked at least eight shots in five games during the last two seasons.
“I’ve thought about it, but it’s not consuming my head, obviously,” Withey said. “I know I’m gonna get it sooner or later.”
Withey’s defensive numbers have decreased during Big 12 play. He’s averaging just 2.6 blocks in seven conference games. Some of that can be pinned on tougher competition. But much of it stems from the fact teams are refusing to challenge Kansas in the paint.
“Teams are really trying to attack us outside the paint,” KU coach Bill Self said, “which that’s OK. But that’s one reason I think his numbers are going down a little bit."
Even as the block numbers have decreased, other numbers continue to confirm Withey’s defensive impact. The Jayhawks are leading the country in two-point field-goal percentage defense (37.2) and are second in block percentage (19.2) — a number that measures the percentage of two-point field goals a team blocks.
With just two months remaining in his college career, Withey is hopeful his blocking acumen will translate to the next level.
“I think so,” Withey said. “That’s what I do. I did it in high school. I did it in college. And next year, hopefully, I’ll have an opportunity to block shots in the NBA.”
That, of course, can come later. Next comes the history part. And even on Thursday, when Withey momentarily confused Ostertag for former Oklahoma State center Bryant Reeves (“I just remember everybody calling him ‘Big Country,’ ” Withey mistakenly said of Ostertag), he appeared excited to finally break the mark.
“If I could get it this game, that’d be awesome,” Withey said. “It’s definitely an honor to be in the same category as all the guys that are in front of me right now.”
Robertson watch list
Kansas landed two players on the 12-person Oscar Robertson Trophy midseason watch list, an honor that goes to the national player of the year in college basketball.
Withey and redshirt freshman Ben McLemore both appeared on the list, released Thursday by the United States Basketball Writers Association of America.
The others are Anthony Bennett freshman of UNLV, sophomore Trey Burke of Michigan, sophomore Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse, junior Doug McDermott of Creighton, junior Victor Oladipo of Indiana, junior Kelly Olynyk of Gonzaga, senior Mason Plumlee of Duke, junior Russ Smith of Louisville, junior Deshaun Thomas of Ohio State and sophomore Cody Zeller of Indiana.
McLemore also appeared on the watch list for the Wayman Tisdale Award for national freshman of the year.
McLemore is the only player to appear on both lists, KU and Indiana are the only schools to have two players on the Oscar Robertson watch list.
McLemore, a 6-foot-5 guard, leads Kansas in scoring at 16.1 points per game, which leads all Big 12 freshmen and ranks second in the Big 12 overall. It would also be the highest scoring average by a KU freshman since Danny Manning averaged 14.6 in 1984-85.
“Being named to both lists is pretty cool,” McLemore said. “There is no way I could get these (honors) without my teammates and coaches. We have a lot of work to do to reach our goals of winning a conference title and doing well in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments.”
Self on scoring
Across college basketball, team scoring averages are on a sharp decline. Self said Thursday that he doesn’t think the trend is too alarming, but he did offer one theory for the decrease: The game is more physical than it used to be.
“I think, primarily, it is the way the game is being officiated,” Self said. “The game isn’t getting less physical, it is probably getting more physical. I think the officials are calling it within the guidelines or the rules. There is probably more contact than what anybody would like to see have happen.”
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/rustindodd.