LAWRENCE, Kan. — All the supernatural spirits that haunt opponents at Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse were held at bay by Oklahoma on Saturday.
The 16,300 in attendance didn’t bother OU. It dodged giving up the huge run that typically spells doom against the Jayhawks. However, there was one very real presence that spooked the Sooners in their 67-54 loss to the third-ranked Jayhawks: The long arms and big hands of Kansas center Jeff Withey. The 7-footer cast a haunting shadow from the opening tip.
“He bothers people. I think I kind of let it get in my head a little bit that I missed a couple shots,” OU’s Romero Osby said. “I was making everything in warm-ups. I thought I was going to have a great game. Sometimes it happens like that. It's back to the drawing board.”
There were a couple scenarios that would have allow OU to end a nine-game losing streak to Kansas that dated back to 2005. Osby playing well was a cog in all of them. He entered the game shooting 53.3 percent from the field and was the focal point of everything the Sooners did on the offensive end.
However, Osby went 4 for 16 en route to 12 points. It seemed like every shot he took — even the jumpers — he was seeing Withey’s hand out of the corner of his eye.
“I think I affected him a little bit,” said Withey, who scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds. “I think he was a little hesitant to shoot the ball. I blocked him the first half pretty early, so that might have gotten in his head.”
Withey only blocked four shots, but he altered twice that total and influenced decisions throughout his 34 minutes on the court.
Osby had a chance to give the Sooners a three-point lead a little over three minutes into the game. He drove down the lane and was uncontested as he rose for the dunk. The ball slammed off the front of the rim and 10 seconds later Kansas’ Ben McLemore, who scored a game-high 18 points, buried a jumper to give the Jayhawks a 6-5 lead. They never trailed again.
Osby wasn’t the only Sooner who played with one eye on Withey. Amath M’Baye, who scored 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting, tried to dunk over the 7-footer late in the first half. M’Baye got whistled for a charge and the ball wound up two rows behind the Jayhawks’ bench.
“He’s definitely a good shot-blocker, but it’s on my part,” M’Baye said of Withey. “I think I could have done a better job just making shots. That was the first time I’ve played against a 7-footer, the first time I’ve played against a shot-blocker. As good as he is, I have to take responsibility for making the shots I usually make.”
Everything else OU had to do to give itself a chance to win, it did. Kansas (18-1, 6-0 Big 12) was never able to run away and hide. It only shot 43.6 percent (24 for 55) and OU (13-5, 4-2) forced the Jayhawks into 14 turnovers.
But OU never whittled Kansas’ lead under eight points in the second half. The best it could do was trade baskets.
“I thought we battled defensively,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “We turned the ball over and gave them some points in transition. Still, Kansas is very, very good and we have to play better than we did today to have a chance to hang in there with them.”
Steven Pledger added 10 points for OU. Eight of them came in the first half to help them stay in the game. Buddy Hield finished with nine. However, OU was just 21 for 59 (35.6 percent) from the field.
The Sooners will get another shot at the Jayhawks on Feb. 9 at Lloyd Noble Center. There won’t be any supernatural demons in that game, but getting Withey out of their minds is a different story.
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