Columbia, Mo. Kansas looked like a Big 12 title contender last season until the Jayhawks ventured to the den of the Missouri Tigers.
"We were 15-2. We were feeling good about ourselves. Then we went there and lost by 22. It was the turning point of our season. Things went downhill after that," KU senior Kenny Gregory said.
The Jayhawks, who travel to Hearnes Center tonight for an 8:05 p.m. tip, suffered an 81-59 drubbing at Mizzou last Jan. 22, then went into a tailspin, losing three of their next five games.
KU went 7-5 in Big 12 play down the stretch and wound up fifth in the regular-season standings after a 4-0 start.
"We had problems winning on the road after that," Gregory said. "I think we've proven so far this year we can get big road wins and focus on the road.
"We have a different mindset this year. We're just going to look at it as another game. We haven't done real well there in the past. It's a new team, new personnel. We'll treat it like we have the other games and hopefully come out on top."
Missouri, of course, treats the KU game in Columbia as no other.
The Tigers (13-6, 4-2 and their fans will be energized for the Jayhawks (17-1, 6-0) and for former MU coach Norm Stewart, who will be honored tonight when the court is christened in his name.
"We know it'll be a fired-up crowd when we get there, enthusiastic," KU coach Roy Williams said. "The shots they have been missing lately will probably go in, so we've got to find a way to compete in that atmosphere."
Missouri improved to 9-0 at home this year by beating Texas Tech, 66-64, Saturday. That victory snapped a three-game losing streak.
The Tigers, who have beaten Indiana and DePaul and lost overtime thrillers to Iowa and Illinois, are led by outside bombers Kareem Rush (21.6 ppg), Clarence Gilbert (18.2) and Brian Grawer (6.7). They have hit 51, 60 and 28 three-pointers respectively.
As a team, MU has made 149 of 418 threes to KU's 96 of 236.
"Rush and Clarence Gilbert score points as fast as any two guys I can ever remember in this league because they make so many threes," Williams said.
Last year, Gilbert, a 6-foot-2 junior, hit seven of 10 threes against KU in Columbia. Rush, a 6-6 sophomore, didn't play in the game because of a suspension.
"The Gilbert youngster ... I can't get over it. He's just phenomenal," Williams said. "Every time he shoots it I think it's going in. A lot of times he's guarded and it still goes in.
"Kareem Rush is sensational. Then you've got Arthur Johnson (9.4 ppg, 8.0 rebounds) and several other guys who can hurt you. Missouri has a great team. I've thought that all year. They've accomplished some great things against a very difficult schedule. It's been hard to watch thinking about how we're going to guard them."
KU, of course, enters the game with some weapons, too. The Jayhawks have six players averaging double-figure scoring.
"They're as skilled a team as any team in the country, the most skill I've seen, and they're playing hungry," MU coach Quin Snyder said. "We're going to get it handed to us unless we really rise up."
The Tigers will be fired up.
"We can be playing the worst ball of the year and when Kansas comes around there is something about Kansas that gets you ready to play," said Rush, whose brother JaRon verbally committed to KU his senior year at KC Pembroke Hill then de-committed and attended UCLA. Kareem never considered KU. "I know we're going to have a lot of fire and passion."
"The older guys have told me it's a big-time game," MU freshman Johnson said. "They don't play in anything like it. They say it's larger than life."
The Jayhawks will try to match or surpass the Tigers' effort.
"It's a tough environment," KU junior Jeff Boschee said. "It'll take a total team effort with great concentration."
"It will take our best game of the year," Williams said. "If we play well we've got a chance. You can put that in bold print."