By Matt Tait.
In many ways Friday night's 64-57 victory by top-seeded Kansas University over Western Kentucky was an extension of the NCAA Tournament games the Jayhawks won last season.
Grind, grind, grind and hang on.
That's what the Jayhawks did on Friday, after trailing by a point at the half, to advance to Sunday's third round.
Led by senior center Jeff Withey's 17 points, six rebounds and seven blocks, the Jayhawks (30-5) took WKU's best shot and still managed to come out on top. The game was anything but comfortable for the de facto home team much of the way.
The Jayhawks struggled on offense throughout much of the first half and looked vulnerable on the boards and on defense. When Withey wasn't scoring at the rim or the free throw line, senior Kevin Young did his best to bring the sluggish Jayhawks energy.
Young finished with five points and eight rebounds.
It was far from pretty, but at this time of the year, it doesn't have to be. KU moves on and avoids the awful distinction of being the first No. 1 to lose to a 16 seed. It was never really close to coming to that, but the way KU played, it certainly could have.
The Jayhawks were 0-for-6 from three, marking the first time they failed to hit a three since a Feb. 9, 2008 home win against Baylor (100-90).
Here’s a quick look back at some of Friday night's action:
• The game turned when: Western Kentucky began shooting in the second half. After shooting 48.1 percent in the first half (13-of-27), the Hilltoppers opened the second half just 4-of-29, a clip that slowly allowed the Jayhawks to gain control. WKU finished the game 21-of-67 shooting, good for 31 percent.
• Offensive highlight: With the Jayhawks trailing early in the second half and still struggling on offense, Kevin Young rebounded his missed jumper from the free throw line and found himself wide open under the rim. Rather than laying it up and taking the two points, Young elected to go with the reverse slam, a move that put KU up 32-31 at the 17:55 mark and ignited the Sprint Center crowd. On the next possession, KU got a lob in transition from Ben McLemore to Travis Releford and the Jayhawks opened up their largest lead of the game to that point while Western Kentucky called a timeout.
• Defensive highlight: This one's a bit odd, but it may have been one of the biggest plays of the game. At 18:19 in the second half, with WKU still leading, the Jayhawks defense stiffened and forced a shot-clock violation. That alone gave the fans something to cheer about and 15 minutes later, KU added to it by opening up a 10-point lead.
• Key stat: Jeff Withey finished with seven blocks and four fouls. If one of those blocks goes a different way, the outcome of this one could have been very different. Just a great game by Withey.
• Up next: The victory moved the top-seeded Jayhawks advanced to the third round of this year's NCAA Tournament and they will face No. 8 seed North Carolina on Sunday at Sprint Center. Game time will be 4:15 p.m. CT on CBS.
KU closes out the win and will play North Carolina on Sunday.
Tharpe makes both.