ISU men will try to avoid Withey's block party
Iowa State plays at Kansas and nation's leading shot-blocker Wednesday night
AMES — There’s a glittering disco ball standing in for the letter “O,” but other than that, the Kansas athletics-based website, "Withey Block Party" is all about intimidation.
It’s designed to hype Jayhawk center Jeff Withey’s best-in-the-nation ability to block, alter and stuff opponents’ shots.
No need, said Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, whose Cyclones (10-3) face No. 6 Kansas (12-1) in Wednesday’s 6 p.m. ESPNU-televised Big 12 opener for both teams in Lawrence.
“If you go in there and challenge Withey, he blocks it, and it’s a dunk on the other end,” Hoiberg said while reeling off reasons the Jayhawks are so stout at home. “I didn’t sleep much after watching the Colorado game (a 90-54 Kansas win last month). They just absolutely, from the jump ball — it was like there were eight guys out there.”
Withey, a legit seven-footer, flashes the most game-changing ability.
His 5.2 blocks-per-game average not only leads the NCAA, but also more than doubles the regular output of the Big 12’s second-best shot swatter, Cory Jefferson of Baylor (2.3).
And Withey has added a new wrinkle to his game.
He can score.
Withey averages 13.4 points per game — and commits a shockingly low 1.2 fouls each outing.
“He’s a force on the offensive end now, but still absolutely controls the game on the other end,” Hoiberg said.
The Jayhawks, who own a seven-game home win streak against ISU, exercise broader dominance within the walls of Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas has lost just eight Big 12 home games since the league’s inception in 1996-97.
The Cyclones notched three of those wins — and will play just their second game since Dec. 19.
“You always get tired of playing the same person over and over,” said ISU guard Chris Babb, who has made at least one 3-pointer in each of his last 15 games. “It’s getting heated, but at the same time, we’re getting ready for these games.”
Hoiberg and his staff have tried to simulate game situations as much as possible during this stretch of sparse competition.
They’ve piped in deafening crowd noise in an attempt to mimic Allen Fieldhouse’s atmosphere.
“Our guys are excited to start playing again,” Hoiberg said. “They hate each other right now; just beating each other up in practice.”
Hoiberg hopes the orneriness remains — albeit directed outward — and merges with sharp and calm execution.
The Cyclones are the only team in the country to score at least 70 points in every game this season and seek to end the Jayhawks’ 30-game home win streak.
“We’ve faced adversity before,” said Babb, whose team held a double-digit second-half lead last season at Lawrence before a 17-2 run doomed the upset bid. “It’s just another task.”
Just like facing Withey, the Big 12‘s reigning defensive player of the year.
He had seven blocked shots in that game, but just one in ISU’s later triumph in Ames.
“It’s definitely going to be a hard task for anybody in the country to score on him,” said Cyclone forward Melvin Ejim, the conference’s leading rebounder at 9.2 per game. “We’re changing things up to try to be more effective against him.”