Kansas is riding a four-game winning streak and its best player just achieved a school milestone, yet coach Bill Self is concerned about his team.
Self hopes the No. 10 Jayhawks won’t be overmatched on the boards by one of the nation’s top rebounding teams Friday night when they face Oregon State in Kansas City.
Since losing 67-64 to then-No. 21 Michigan State on Nov. 13, Kansas (5-1) has won four in a row by an average of 19.5 points. Seven-foot senior Jeff Withey became the second player in school history to officially record a triple-double with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks in a 70-57 home win over San Jose State on Monday.
Eight of Withey’s points came during an 18-1 run to open the second half which gave the Jayhawks a 24-point lead, but they let the Spartans respond with an 18-2 run to make it a close game down the stretch.
What had Self more agitated was his team getting outrebounded 45-41 even with Withey’s effort.
“Our 6-foot-7 guys play like they’re 6-5,” Self said. “That’s ridiculous. Those guys that are short have to play bigger than their standing height. We’re just not playing to our athletic ability at all right now.”
Self has been starting three guards and the team is averaging 38.2 rebounds, third-worst among Big 12 schools. The only other game in which Kansas was outrebounded was the loss to Michigan State.
Self hopes his team can improve enough in that area so Oregon State (4-1) does not take advantage to the point where rebounding decides the outcome. With four players averaging at least 5.4 boards, the Beavers rank in the top 20 nationally with 44.2 per game and are outrebounding opponents by 7.2 per contest.
“They are really, really long and probably will be about as big a team as we will play this year,” Self said. “They’ll play volleyball with it on the backboard if we can’t compete harder than (against San Jose State).”
Oregon State, though, won’t have 6-foot-10 senior captain Angus Brandt (11.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg) after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in a 66-58 win over Purdue on Nov. 16. The Beavers’ only game since losing Brandt was Sunday’s 78-65 victory over Montana State as Joe Burton had a career-high 21 points and 10 rebounds while 6-10 Eric Moreland added 11 and 10.
“After it’s evident for a week-and-a-half now that (Brandt) isn’t going to be with us, everybody feels the pressure of having to do a little bit more,” said coach Craig Robinson, the brother of First Lady Michelle Obama. “It was very nice for Joe to have such a good game the first day without Angus.”
Moreland averages a team-leading 10.4 boards but could have his hands full with Withey (14.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg), who has totaled 41 points and 19 blocks in the last two games. However, Withey’s teammates know they must lend consistent support to their big man for the Jayhawks to remain successful.
“I feel like we have to help Jeff, because he’s doing a lot out there and it’s a heavy load on him,” said guard Elijah Johnson, who had 13 points Monday. “It’s a big help for us to know that even if a man beats us on the dribble he only completed half the task. We still have to help Jeff and take some pressure off of him when we can.”
Facing Oregon State for the first time, Kansas is trying to go 3-0 this season across the border at the Sprint Center. The Beavers last beat a Top 25 team away from home on Jan. 5, 1985, with a 52-45 win at No. 15 Washington.