Columbia, Mo. Roy Williams handed birthday-boy Norm Stewart a present before Saturday's Kansas-Missouri showdown at the Hearnes Center.
By game's end, Stewart, Missouri's 55-year-old coach, still hadn't opened the nicely wrapped package.
"I'm gonna put it in water first," said a grinning Stewart, implying he might have to defuse a KU bomb following MU's 95-87 win.
"Hey, I'm kidding," said Stewart. "Roy Williams and I have a great relationship. That was just the Irish in me coming out."
Following his postgame interview session, Stewart went into MU's locker room and finally unwrapped Williams' gift. He returned to unveil a "Crack-Up" golf ball, a gag-gift for golf fanatics like KU coach Williams and Stewart.
"SEE, I wasn't too far off. It says to try this on a `friend,''' Stewart said, chuckling.
Stewart was a ball-of-laughs after the No. 4-ranked Tigers' 17th win of the year against one loss.
"I thought it was a great game, a tremendous game," said Stewart. "It was tough, hard-fought. There was a lot of action.
"I'm really happy for our players. Anytime you beat the No. 1 ballclub and a big rival, it's important. But it's just one ballgame. You've got to keep it in perspective."
Actually, Stewart feels it was two different games.
"THE FIRST half was all Kansas," said Stewart. "It belonged to them. We had no ball movement, no execution. At halftime, we said they had to have enough confidence in their teammates to pass the ball.
"I thought the first four minutes of the second half was as good as we've played."
Down 46-43 at half, MU outscored KU 18-7 to start the final stanza.
"Coach told us to forget about who we were playing, the fact they were No. 1, and to move the ball," said guard Anthony Peeler. He scored a game-high 24 points, despite hitting just five of 15 floor shots. He was 14 of 14 from the line.
"I'm at the point where I like shooting free throws," said Peeler.
He was one of four Tigers to score more than 20 points. That's been done twice this season twice in Tiger history.
CENTER DOUG Smith scored 23 19 in the second half. Forward Nathan Buntin totaled 22 on 11 of 14 shooting. And guard Lee Coward had 20 on seven of 12 marksmanship.
"My gosh, we had four over 20. That happens when you pass the ball like we did the second half," said Stewart.
He said the Tigers would gladly accept this week's No. 1 ranking. If it's offered.
"For our ballclub, I'd like to say we've played a tough schedule," Stewart said. "No way did I think we could accomplish these things with the schedule we've had. We've been No. 1 before. I think it's good, great, it's a challenge."
"I don't want it. Georgetown, anybody else, KU," said Coward. "It just sets you up for a big disappointment."
STEWART AND Coward had praise for 19-1 KU, a squad which cut an eight-point second-half deficit to two with 5:30 left. The outcome wasn't decided until Smith rammed home a dunk at :22, giving MU a 93-87 lead.
"Roy has a tremendous team," said Stewart. "Defensively, they hit ya with several things. They gave up a couple buckets, but they trapped us. We acted like we'd never seen that before."
"They were everything I expected," said Smith, who hit 10 of 15 shots. "I knew they were the No. 1 team and would come right at us."
"They all have roles," said Coward. "Their point guard, Kevin Pritchard, runs that team so well and the rest are all supporting players."
"They're good," said Peeler. "But it was at home, our place. We had to beat 'em at home. It's tough to win on the road in this league. You've got to win your home games."