KU big man gets votes of confidence

Kansas forward Jeff Withey pulls in a pass before Oklahoma State defenders Le'Bryan Nash (2) and Brian Williams (4) during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

KU vs. Oklahoma State

Box score

It’s inaccurate to say that nothing can boost the confidence of a college basketball player coming off a scoreless game in a tough loss more than a 25-point road outburst against the nation’s sixth-ranked team.

One more powerful confidence booster does exist, and its fingerprints were so easy to spot Saturday afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse. Nothing can make a player believe in himself more than teammates showing they believe in him by going out of their way to feed him the ball.

In the signature play of a first half as dominant as any the Kansas University basketball team has played this season, Thomas Robinson had an open 10-foot lane jumper, but he bypassed it to feed Jeff Withey for a dunk.

The Jayhawks left their edge in the locker room at halftime and held on for an 81-66 victory against Oklahoma State after taking a 51-24 lead at the break.

Despite the lousy second-half play, more good than bad came from this one, most notably the loud statement that Withey has emerged as a serious scoring threat, and teammates welcome it. His confidence clearly fueled by that, Withey turned into a rebounding monster for at least one afternoon. He finished with 18 points, a career-high 20 boards and seven blocked shots.

Even looking for Withey as often as he did, Robinson still managed 24 points and 14 rebounds.

“It makes it a lot easier for me,” Robinson said of Withey’s back-to-back blockbuster efforts. “I feel like I’m not even working to score anymore the way Jeff’s playing. My play deserves nothing. This is on Jeff. He’s playing his butt off right now. He’s definitely the reason we’re playing good right now.”

Originally credited with the basket that bounced off an Oklahoma State player’s head, Robinson had that taken away when the rule book showed it should be credited to the KU team. Robinson took other potential baskets away from himself by looking for Withey.

“Definitely,” Robinson said of looking for the 7-footer. “I know that he’s capable of scoring. He proved that the past two games, and right now he’s on a roll. I felt like it’s my job to keep him on the roll, especially when people are focusing their attention on me a lot. That just leaves Jeff right there.”

Nobody gave Withey the kid-glove treatment after his Missouri no-show.

“At Missouri, I didn’t score at all,” Withey said. “I wasn’t a factor. Coach was really angry about that. He feels like I just let them punk me. The last couple of practices have been tough. He’s been getting on me, getting me to be more physical in practice. He’s a good motivator, and these guys (points to teammates) are, too. I’ve been trying to be more positive and more aggressive.”

Withey never will be a consistently swift finisher because of the way he sometimes gathers himself after offensive rebounds, but earning two free throws is nearly as productive because he’s shooting .851 from the line.

Withey has reached double figures in scoring in eight of the past nine games after doing so in just five of the season’s first 15. His 20 rebounds were the most by a KU player in a Big 12 game since Cole Aldrich had that many Feb. 23, 2009, against Oklahoma.

Withey leads the Big 12 in blocked shots, a function of long arms and impeccable timing.

“I’ve watched a lot of tape, and you just see the progression of him,” OSU coach Travis Ford said. “I think he fully understands he’s playing with the best player in America. I think he’s slowly figured out, ‘Hey, this is a positive for me. This is good. I’m going to feed off this.’ That’s good for Kansas, but bad for us.”

Withey missed a few easy shots, but that didn’t stop him from consistently battling inside to put up shots. His ability to take a physical licking and keep on ticking will face a tougher test Monday night when the Jayhawks travel to Manhattan into as tough an environment as they’ll invade all year.

“K-State’s different than Oklahoma State and Baylor,” Self said. “Baylor plays a certain way, and Oklahoma State plays a certain way, and K-State doesn’t play that way at all. Jeff had a good game against K-State the first time, so he’s capable of going in there and playing well, no question. But there’s going to be a body on him every time he moves. That kind of goes with the territory when you play the Wildcats.”

In the state rivalry game in Allen Fieldhouse, Withey totaled eight points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots. That came one game after he was limited to eight minutes of playing time in a rout of North Dakota State. He responded well to that benching and to the scoreless humiliation against Missouri. He showed Saturday that nothing gets him going quite like a vote of confidence from teammates.