Withey, Kansas slip past Western Kentucky in NCAA second round
Kansas City, MO – Jeff Withey posted 17 points, seven blocks and six rebounds, as Kansas snuck past 16th-seeded Western Kentucky, 64-57, in a second-round matchup in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament at the Sprint Center.
Travis Releford and Ben McLemore each registered 11 points for the Jayhawks (30-5), who became the first team in NCAA Division I history to win 30 or more games in four straight seasons.
With the victory, Kansas advances to Sunday's third round, where the top- seeded Jayhawks will take on No. 8 seed North Carolina.
"We're happy to advance, but certainly not pleased on how we played," Kansas coach Bill Self admitted. "Certainly we know we'll have to play a lot better on Sunday."
Jamal Crook led Western Kentucky (20-16) with 13 points and nine rebounds, while T.J. Price poured in 12 points for the Hilltoppers, who earned their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance after claiming the Sun Belt crown.
Both teams shot 48 percent from the floor in a tightly-contested first half that featured six ties and 11 lead changes, with the final one coming with under a minute left on Crook's jumper that sent the Hilltoppers into the break holding a 31-30 advantage.
Kansas put the clamps on defensively in the second half, as the Jayhawks held WKU to just 20.5 percent shooting over the final 20 minutes, including a dismal 2-for-14 mark from beyond the arc.
"Sometimes the ball doesn't go in for you," Crook said of his team's shooting woes in the second half. "I thought we had some good looks. I thought we had some great looks. They just didn't fall for us."
The Hilltoppers connected on just two field goals over the first 10-plus minutes of the second half, allowing Kansas to build a 43-37 edge after Kevin Young split a pair of free throws near the midpoint of the frame.
O'Karo Akamune finished back-to-back layups around two free throws from Withey to bring WKU within four with 8 1/2 minutes left, but the Hilltoppers went the next five minutes without a field goal to watch their hopes of an upset all but evaporate.
Kansas finally created some separation as Western Kentucky struggled to find the bottom of the net, with Withey pouring in five points in an 8-1 Kansas spurt that gave the Jayhawks a 53-42 lead with just over three minutes left.
Crook quelled the WKU drought with a three-point play and then added a pair at the stripe following an Elijah Johnson turnover to trim the margin to six.
Releford responded with a layup, but Price buried a trey from the top of the key at the other end to bring WKU within 55-50 with 1:57 to play.
However, Kansas was able to seal the outcome from the charity stripe, as the Jayhawks knocked down 9-of-10 from the line over the final 46 seconds to hang on for the victory.
WKU shot 31.8 percent from the field overall, despite going just 3-for-20 from 3-point range ... Kansas finished 0-for-6 from beyond the arc, marking the first time since Feb. 9, 2008 that the Jayhawks were held without a 3-pointer ... Kansas leads the all-time series with Western Kentucky, 4-1 ... Aleksejs Rostov and George Fant finished with 11 and 10 points, respectively, for the Hilltoppers.