Archive for Sunday, March 16, 2003

KU fans look past loss to Big Dance

March 16, 2003

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— Justin Lippiner hates Missouri, but he doesn't much mind that the Tigers shoved his beloved Jayhawks out of the Big 12 tournament.

The Kansas University senior is on spring break, ticketed to fly out of Dallas at 6 a.m. today for the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"I'll be on a beach, at a bar, watching the waves -- and the selection show," he said, smiling as he scurried from a concourse Saturday at American Airlines Center. "I'll be dreaming of KU winning a national championship."

Visions of hoops paradise dominated the day for the hundreds of KU faithful in Dallas, despite the immediate gloom of losing, 68-63, to Missouri. Such is the promise of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, offering a shot at basketball immortality.

"We don't get to cut down the nets today, and that hurts," said KU guard Aaron Miles, cutting tape off his ankles in the locker room. "But we've got six more games in us to win the national championship. We want a championship."

KU fans in town for the conference tournament do, too.

Kevin Pritchard, a guard on the Jayhawks' 1988 national championship team, figures history could be on the Jayhawks' side this year. His club also lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

'Serious business'

"It was the greatest thing in the world," Pritchard said, attending the game with his wife, Shea, and two sons. "We had a chance to go back and get fresh -- mentally fresh. That was the big thing.

"This tournament -- the conference tournament -- is all about the experience. It's for the revenue. It's for the fans. The serious basketball starts today. As soon as that selection show starts, it's serious business."

Kansas University fans, from left, Chris Hurding, Wichita, and
Barbara and Lee Curtis, Lenexa, whoop it up at a pep rally at the
VictoryFest in the West End in Dallas. Saturday's KU-Missouri game,
however, was a 68-63 loss for the Jayhawks.

Kansas University fans, from left, Chris Hurding, Wichita, and Barbara and Lee Curtis, Lenexa, whoop it up at a pep rally at the VictoryFest in the West End in Dallas. Saturday's KU-Missouri game, however, was a 68-63 loss for the Jayhawks.

The show, at 5 p.m. on CBS, will reveal where and when KU will be sent to play -- and into a tournament where only one team can end the season with a win.

Bill Hanna is rooting for a trip to Oklahoma City. The former president of Wichita-based Koch Industries would make the 2 1/2-hour drive from the Air Capital to reach the first stop on the Road to the Final Four.

With Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison leading the way, Hanna figures the Jayhawks have as good a chance as anybody to reach college basketball's promised land.

"There's a lot of luck involved," Hanna said. "Maybe this is our year."

Plenty of people are counting on it. Jay Hinrichs, director of KU's Williams Educational Fund, said that 1,100 donors already had lined up tickets and made arrangements for accommodations in New Orleans, site of the Final Four.

KU fans cheer as the Crimson girls and Pep band entertain during a
KU pep rally at VictoryFest in the West End in Dallas TX before
KU's tipoff against MU.

KU fans cheer as the Crimson girls and Pep band entertain during a KU pep rally at VictoryFest in the West End in Dallas TX before KU's tipoff against MU.

"Our fans have high expectations," Hinrichs said.

Title talk

Joel Zeff, a KU graduate working in Dallas as a "national humorist and speaker," said the only real effect of losing Saturday would be to loosen KU's grip on a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

And make no mistake: the NCAA Tournament is the only thing that matters.











"The Big 12 tournament is all about bragging rights," he said. "I'll take one national championship instead of 12 conference championships in a row."

Even Shane Koenig gives KU a good shot.

The Missouri senior prepped for Saturday's big game by wading through the 900 KU fans crammed under a circus tent in the West End for a pep rally. His schtick? Slapping dozens of black tiger-paw stickers onto the backs of unwitting Jayhawks, and onto the GO JAYHAWKS banners crossing Munger Avenue.

He's afraid the rally could relocate to New Orleans, home to the Final Four, in three weeks.

"Nothing's out of the picture for them," Koenig said. "In the past, their talent's been really good, but they've proven they can't win. But Hinrich and Collison -- they've proven they can do it. ... If they stay within their game, they can win it all."

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