Jeff Withey’s late-game defensive heroics usher Kansas into the Final Four

Graham Watson

Kansas had three blocks in its Elite Eight game against North Carolina. Two were in the final two minutes, both by Jeff Withey, and they sealed the Jayhawks' invitation to the Final Four.

Kansas beat the Tar Heels 80-67, thanks in part to Withey, who was the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year but was sometimes overshadowed by the play of fellow big man Thomas Robinson and guard Tyshawn Taylor. And while both players were instrumental in getting the Jayhawks to the Final Four, it was Withey's defensive prowess - he actually had all three KU blocks - that helped Kansas keep North Carolina scoreless in the final 3:58 of the game.

With 2:03 remaining, Withey's block led to a fast-break layup for Taylor. Withey's next block — on North Carolina's following possession — came at 1:33 and sent Travis Releford away for an uncontested dunk.

Thanks to Withey's defense, Kansas turned a 71-67 lead with two minutes remaining, into a 76-67 lead a minute later and the Jayhawks never looked back.

Withey finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, his best overall effort of the NCAA tournament. He made all five of his shots and missed just one of his six free throws. What was most impressive about his defensive performance at the end of the Elite Eight game was that he had four fouls yet attacked the basketball with no fear of fouling out.

While there were a lot of plays that helped Kansas win the game, there's no doubt Withey's defensive presence helped seal it.