Final Conference Meeting Between Kansas And Missouri Etched Into LorePosted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2012
Steve Fetch is the Big 12 Correspondent for RTC. He filed this report from Allen Fieldhouse chronicling Saturday’s heated battle between Kansas and Missouri. You can follow him on Twitter at @fetch9.
Luck is a funny thing. It was part luck that allowed Missouri to shoot 50% from three over the first 29 minutes of the game. It was part luck that led to them going cold down the stretch. And it certainly was part luck that kept Marcus Denmon’s long heave with 30 seconds left from rattling home. But the luckiest people were the more than 16,000 people in the building who got to witness perhaps the last regular season meeting between Kansas and Missouri.
It’s one of the best rivalries in the country. It’s also one of the most overlooked. Most importantly, it’s based on pure hatred and history dating back to the Civil War. After the game, Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden expressed his bewilderment at why the series wasn’t going to continue. The explanation isn’t all that complex, but it is fueled by emotion. A continuation of the series outside of the parameters of conference play wouldn’t be the same. Unlike in football, where a Florida-Florida State matchup can have national championship implications, a mid-November meeting between Kansas and Missouri would just be a pit stop before the show that matters. Not to mention the fact that it hardly benefits Kansas to let Missouri back into the Kansas City market and assume all the pressure: win, and they’re supposed to, because they’re Kansas. Lose and it’s the end of the world.
Perhaps the final installment of the Border War was lifted straight out of a movie script. Missouri, the owners of the best offense in not just the league but in the country, forced National Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson to the bench with foul trouble, and built a 12-point lead at the half. It ballooned to 19 just four minutes into the second half and it looked like the dream was dead. The Kansas faithful stood and applauded once, twice, three times as Kansas narrowed the deficit to 10, but couldn’t quite get over the hump.
As if the ghost of Phog Allen and Allen Fieldhouse itself were fed up with the notion that Missouri was going to win in their final trip to the building, the Jayhawks whittled the deficit from 15 to three in just under five minutes. Kansas never led in the second half, but the same Thomas Robinson who was ineffective in the first half with foul trouble scored seven points in the final 3:30, including a three-point play with 16 seconds left to tie it. His blocked shot on Phil Pressey in the final seconds caused the fans to jump and raise their hands in the air for the first of many times over the next five minutes.
Still, Missouri wouldn’t go away. Marcus Denmon, who torched Kansas for 29 points in their first meeting, hit a huge three to give Missouri a one-point lead. Then, Bill Self drew up the play of the day for Elijah Johnson, who had eight assists and zero turnovers, to feed Tyshawn Taylor for a dunk to give the home team the lead back. That man Denmon again hit an impossibly tough floater to give the Tigers a one-point lead with just 12 seconds left. It no doubt was time for someone to take one final shot at the buzzer and try to become a hero.
Only it wasn’t.
Instead, Taylor, a senior who is often belittled as much as he is beloved, took the ball from end to end in just four seconds in that whirling dervish style of his that is more performance than play. Whether he was bumped enough to call a foul will be the subject of debate between Kansas and Missouri fans for years. What was true, though, was that this senior, who missed a key free throw at Missouri, was going to the line with a chance to win it and cement his KU legacy. Once again, it was time for hands to raise. Before each free throw, Kansas fans, like many around the country, raise their arms in anticipation. Who knows how many of those hands, with Taylor on the line with a chance to win it, were raised in anticipation or merely in prayer. Taylor’s greatest strength is often times his greatest weakness as well: he cares a lot, perhaps too much. He’s always played with emotion pouring out of him. In fact, it’s probably a rarity when shows less emotion than everyone else in the building put together.
This was one of those times. His first free throw crawled over the rim as brief groans turned to sighs of relief. The second went down far more abruptly, and prompted an equally abrupt outburst of elation. An outburst that was nothing compared to eight seconds later when Missouri’s final shot came after the buzzer had sounded, not that you could hear it above the delirium. The ghosts of Allen Fieldhouse had done it again.
Those ghosts who had lifted the crowd and propelled the team forward now had the opposite effect. Fans remained bolted to their seats, not wanting to leave for as long as 15 minutes afterward. Sometimes, your heart can override your head. After that game, who wouldn’t want to do that every year, to feel those feelings? But of course, it’s not what is best for Kansas basketball, and, for now at least, the rivalry will have to live on in that memory. And what a memory it will be.