Kansas hit enough shots and played enough defense to avoid being the first No. 1 seed in NCAA history to lose in the first round, as the Jayhawks downed 16th-seeded Western Kentucky 64-57 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Sprint Center.
Jeff Withey's inside presence finally paid off for the Jayhawks, as the 7-footer scored nine points in the second half to help Kansas pull away. His short hook in the lane with 3:52 left gave Kansas a double-digit lead for the first time at 52-42.
Withey led Kansas with 17 points. Ben McLemore and Travis Releford each contributed 11 points for the Jayhawks.
Four Hilltopers, led by Jamal Crook with 13 points, scored in double figures.
Kansas will play North Carolina, who defeated Villanova earlier in the day, in Sunday's third round.
The Jayhawks (30-5) had their hands full with the Hilltoppers. Kansas scored the first four points of the second half to grab their biggest lead of the game at 34-31. Both teams started the second half in sluggish fashion. The Hilltoppers made only one of their first 12 shots of the half.
The Jayhawks just couldn't shake Western Kentucky (20-16). Even when Kansas led by six points on several occasions, Western would answer. It wasn't until Withey scored seven points in a 9-3 run that Kansas could feel comfortable.
For a moment, at least. The Hilltoppers answered with an 8-2 run to cut the lead to 55-50. But Kansas hit 9 of 10 from the free-throw line in the closing moments to clinch the victory.
Western Kentucky continued the trend of lower-seeded teams putting scares into their opponents. No. 12 seed Mississippi beat Wisconsin and 13-seed LaSalle beat Kansas State in the opening session in Kansas City. Also, ninth-seeded Villanova overcame a 20-point deficit to take the lead before falling late to North Carolina.
The Hilltoppers led through most of the first half. They led by as many as four. A layup by Crook with 45 seconds left in the first half allowed Western to take a 31-30 lead into intermission.
Kansas was led by Withey with eight points and Perry Ellis had seven.
Western Kentucky got nine points from Aleksejs Rostov and eight from George Fant. The Hilltoppers outrebounded Kansas 18-13, included a 5-2 edge on the offensive end.
NOTES: Western Kentucky is in the NCAA Tournament for the 23rd time overall, and fourth time in the past six seasons. The Hilltoppers have won at least one game in each of their last three appearances. ... The Hilltoppers are 1-1 against Kansas all-time in the NCAA Tournament. Western Kentucky won the third-place game of the 1971 Final Four (later vacated) and lost in the second round of the 1995 NCAA Tournament. ... Kansas is in its 42nd NCAA Tournament, including its 24th in a row, the longest active streak in the nation. The 1988-89 Jayhawks were ineligible. The last time Kansas was eligible for the NCAA Tournament and didn't make it was 30 years ago. ... This is the 11th time that Kansas has earned a No. 1 seed since the NCAA began seeding in 1979.