By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
The scheduling gods have smiled upon Oklahoma State — depending how you look at it — this week.
While the Cowboys will have a load heading to second-ranked Kansas, they go with center Philip Jurick being well rested thanks to just six minutes of playing time against Iowa State — riding the bench simply because of the Cyclones’ smaller size.
“It’s going to be a different mindset,” said Jurick, who is listed at 6-foot-11, 260 pounds. “Saturday’s going to be a pretty big game. ... My legs feel pretty good, though.”
The biggest matchup — both literal and figurative — will be between Jurick and KU’s Jeff Withey, a 7-foot senior who was named to the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Year Midseason Watch List.
“They’re both big, that’s for sure,” OSU coach Travis Ford said. “... We’re definitely going to need (Jurick) Saturday. Any extra energy we can get from Philip would be great.”
Withey is averaging 13.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, but he makes his name on defense. Withey is third in the nation in blocked shots with 4.3 per game.
“Jeff Withey changes the game like no other player in the country, defensively,” Ford said. “He’s just a difference maker in there and he really protects the rim for them. They’ve got a very good defensive team, but he makes them extra great.”
With that big man patrolling the paint for the Jayhawks, it’s going to take some smart play by the Cowboys when attacking the lane.
“You’ve got to attack his body,” OSU freshman point guard Marcus Smart said. “With somebody whose strength is blocking shots and effecting shots, you’ve got to attack their body and cut down their athleticism.”
The most anticipated potential matchup however will happen around the perimeter between a pair of freshmen guards in KU’ Ben McLemore and Smart.
While Smart plays the point and McLemore is a shooting guard — meaning Smart will likely spend more time facing KU’s point guard Elijah Johnson — Ford said he anticipates the pair of freshmen who were named to the Wayman Tisdale Watch List for the nation’s top freshman will see some of each other in one-on-one situations.
“I’m sure they’ll end up on each other somewhere eventually. I don’t think it’s a matchup where he’s going to start on Marcus and Marcus is not starting on him,” Ford said. “But I’m sure they’ll get caught on each other at some point.
“It’s two of the best freshmen in the country. That’s not even an argument — two of the top five freshmen in the country. So it’ll be two great freshmen playing in this game.”
McLemore, who was also named to the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Year Midseason Watch List, leads the Jayhawks in scoring and is second in the Big 12 in scoring at 16.1 points per game.
“He’s a great player. One of the best players in the country right now,” Smart said. “It’s going to be a great game with two great competitors at this level going at it. It’s going to be a sight to see.”