Journal-World Assistant Sports Editor
Columbia, Mo. -- Finally, Kansas' Ryan Robertson has his victory at Missouri's Hearnes Center.
"It means a lot. To think of all the tough times I spent in that locker room with tears in my eyes / to win here as a senior / it's hard to remember a time I've felt as good as this," Robertson, Kansas' senior shooting guard, said after scoring a game-high 17 points in the No. 15-ranked Jayhawks' resounding 73-61 victory over the Tigers at sold-out, typically loud Hearnes.
It marked St. Charles, Mo., resident Robertson's first victory in four tries at Mizzou. He couldn't win in Columbia with Raef LaFrentz and Paul Pierce as teammates, but did it in 1999 with freshman Jeff Boschee and Marlon London, who had 15 and 10 points respectively.
And with Eric Chenowith, who grabbed 13 rebounds -- 10 the first half as KU led, 32-15, at the break.
"Before the game, I heard some of the fans say, 'Robertson, you'll be 0-for-4,'" Robertson said of the student cheering section, the Antlers. "I wanted to let them know it would not be the case.
"I didn't want to rub it in, but I wanted them to know how happy I was."
So he held his head high in the direction of the student cheering section as the Jayhawks exited the floor following the final buzzer. Chenowith looked high in the stands while pointing to the 'Kansas' on his jersey.
"To come away with a victory like this / coach called it a 'hugger,''' Robertson said. "Everybody's hugging everybody in the locker room."
Emotion was a key, KU coach Roy Williams said after the Jayhawks claimed their 12th win in 15 games and fourth against no losses in the league. MU fell to 12-3, 3-1.
"We talked about this has got to be a game that we can't come back in the locker room and have anything left," Williams said. "I gave them a saying, 'What I have left, I lose forever.' I think that's what we wanted -- to make sure when we came back in the locker room we were totally spent and didn't have anything else to give."
That explains London grabbing a career-best seven rebounds, and the Jayhawk man-to-man and point zone defenses holding MU to miserable 5-of-31 shooting the first half.
Also, frosh Boschee tied a career high with 15 points, including three three-pointers the first half (and a career-high four overall) when KU opened the 17-point lead.
"Coach said, 'Play your guts off on the defensive end,''' Boschee said. "I think we concentrated on that tonight."
As far as his threes, "They were big shots and kind of opened it up a bit."
The Jayhawks led 12-10 at 12:38 after seeing their incredible early 10-0 lead shrink. Up two, they went on a 14-0 blitz the next eight minutes.
Boschee cashed two three-pointers in that surge, while Robertson, Kenny Gregory (six points, six boards) and London had a basket apiece. Missouri went 0-for-12 from the field in that stretch.
MU stumbled into the half with a 16.1 shooting percentage and 32-15 deficit. The 15 points marked the second-lowest total in a half for a KU opponent in the Williams era. Texas Tech scored 14 in the first half against the Jayhawks last year. The shooting percentage was the fourth worst by a KU foe in the last 11 years.
"I think it was great defense on both ends of the court," Williams said of the first half, in which KU hit just 29.4 percent of its shots. "We used a lot of zone to stop foul trouble. We also were fortunate we caught Missouri on a night some of their shots were not going in."
In the first half, Boschee led the way with nine points while Gregory had six.
"I think Jeff was a key the first half," Williams said. "He is getting better and better. We played hard. We played good defense. It was a great victory for us. I could ramble and ramble, but the bottom line is it was a great victory. We were due one here is probably what it was."
The Jayhawks, who had dropped three straight in Columbia, didn't win without some scares the second half.
A 9-0 MU run cut KU's 39-20 lead to 10 points at 14:16. Robertson immediately answered that run with a three at 14:10.
KU led 48-33 at 10:28 and 54-39 at 7:43. But MU went on a 9-0 run and cut the gap to 54-48 at 4:33.
Lester Earl (six points, three boards) hit a free throw and scored off a feed from London at 3:28 and KU led, 57-48.
Woods hit a three, then London answered with a basket and Chenowith followed with a hoop and KU led, 61-51, at 3:01.
MU didn't quit, cutting the gap to 65-59 at 1:16. But Robertson hit two free throws at :58.4 and Nick Bradford added a basket and foul shot right after to assure the victory.
The Jayhawks finished at 39.1 percent shooting to MU's 33.8 mark.
"It is the best basketball game we played this year," Williams concluded.
KU will next meet Massachusetts at 12:05 p.m. Saturday in Amherst, Mass.
-- Gary Bedore's phone number is 832-7216. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.