LAWRENCE, Kan. – What a weird week for Philip Jurick.
Wednesday's matchup with Iowa State all but relegated Oklahoma State's big man to spectator status, with the Cyclones' perimeter-built offense leaving him no one to guard and limiting him to six minutes of action.
Now three days later, Saturday's clash with No. 2-ranked Kansas – and more precisely center Jeff Withey – places Jurick in a focused spotlight, as well as at the heart of OSU's upset hopes.
“Yeah, we're definitely going to need him Saturday; that's why I didn't play him (Wednesday night), so I could get him some extra rest,” Cowboys coach Travis Ford said jokingly.
“He knew that was going to be a tough one, but any extra energy we can get from Philip on Saturday would be great.”
Tip time is 3 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse.
Withey's interior dominance has been a major factor in the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks seizing of the Big 12 race, which shows KU cruising out front at 7-0, 19-1 overall.
The 7-footer averages 13.1 points, a team-high 8.3 rebounds and school-record-pace 4.3 blocked shots per game, well ahead of his record mark of 3.6 a year ago. While the fifth-year senior's offensive game has improved dramatically over time, it's his presence in the paint on the defensive end that alters opponent's shots and psyches and game plans.
“Teams are really trying to attack us outside the paint,” said KU coach Bill Self. “Which, that's OK.”
Even so, Withey's 86 blocks this season are more than six Big 12 teams (the Cowboys aren't one of them).
“He's talented, considered one of the best big men in our league,” Jurick said. “You've got to stay physical with him. You can't get down on yourself if he scores a couple of baskets. You just have to match his intensity and stay after him.”
Jurick can match more than Withey's intensity. As one of the league's few traditional-styled centers, Jurick may not match Withey's offensive prowess, but he's given the Cowboys solid defense and rebounding.
OSU sizes up well in the other key matchups and in Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash has star power to offset KU's Ben McLemore, Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson. But the Cowboys can't get clobbered inside, making it important for Jurick to somewhat contain Withey.