Despite a slew of upsets and surprises early in the NCAA tournament, two of the most successful programs in college basketball history are meeting for the national title tonight in New Orleans. Top-seeded Kentucky has enjoyed an easier ride to the final, which is why the Wildcats are an obvious favorite. But Kansas has shined in big moments of late, and it might have a weapon that Kentucky can’t match.
Jeff Withey had seven blocked shots in the Jayhawks’ semifinal matchup with Ohio State, and has been one of the tournament’s best defenders.
Jeff Withey joined Westwood One to talk about tonight’s national championship game in New Orleans. He also discussed his seven-block performance against Ohio State, and the root of why he’s become such a great shot blocker, as well as Kansas’s early-season matchup with the Wildcats and the key to tonight’s affair.
On how he’s feeling about tonight’s game:
“Awesome. We’ve been through a lot this year but we’re making our strides late and we’re really excited for this game.”
On Danny Manning, his assistant coach, and the man who held the Final Four single-game shot-blocking record before he broke it Saturday night:
“He’s been the main person. He helps me out every day with my footwork and my moves on the post. And he gives me little tips throughout the game. And I wouldn’t be here without him.”
On how being a former volleyball player helps him to block shots on the basketball court:
“A ton. In volleyball you’re jumping nonstop and that’s what gets me to the ball so easy, just it’s quick, and my jumping ability is quick just like in volleyball and the timing of blocking shots.”
On if the Jayhawks can take anything away from their mid-November meeting with Kentucky to prepare for tonight’s game:
“It was so long ago, but we can take a little bit from it, just the personnel. But it was so long ago — we’re two different teams now. They’re obviously a great team and we’ve learned a lot. And tonight we’re gonna play defense like we’ve never played before.”
On Thomas Robinson and Anthony Davis going head to head:
“I don’t think that’ll happen too much. I think that I’ll probably be playing Anthony the most of the game. But if it they’re guarding each other it’s gonna be a great matchup.”
On how special it would be to win tonight:
“Man, it would just be a blessing. And we’re definitely going to try our hearts out, and to bring something like that back to Kansas would be awesome. Our fans definitely would love it and we would love it too.”
On the key to this game:
“Defense. If we play defense like we have this whole tournament then we have a good chance, by muddying it up, making it a sloppy game, and making sure that they don’t get on the runs that they usually do. If we do that, then we have a good chance.”
On if coach Bill Self was animated during halftime of Saturday’s game against Ohio State:
“No, it wasn’t that bad. He definitely said that we could play a lot better than we were. He kinda left it on us to go out there and play. He said it could be either our last night of playing or we can go on and try to win a national championship. And we kinda took those words to heart, and we went out in the second half and played really well and our defense stepped up.”