One of Kansas State's most passionate sports fans chit-chatted with first-year Wildcat basketball coach Bob Huggins about the history of the Sunflower Showdown on Monday night at the Manhattan Town Center Mall.
"I was talking to Robert, and Robert says, 'This is like no rivalry you've ever seen,'" Huggins said of the Kansas-Kansas State rivalry as described to him by Robert Lipson, who has attended every KSU football game since 1973 and numerous road and home basketball games as well.
"I said, 'Robert, you're totally off base. This is no rivalry. You've got to win once in a while. Once we win once in a while, you'll see a rivalry, and that will be fun.'''
The Wildcats, who did win in Lawrence last January to snap a 31-game skid versus the Jayhawks, return to Allen Fieldhouse tonight for the first KU-KSU clash of the Huggins Era. Tip-off for the Big 12 battle between No. 9 KU (19-4, 6-2) and unrated but red-hot KSU (17-6, 6-2) is 8 p.m., with a live telecast on channels 8 and 15 and replay at 10:30 p.m. on Sunflower Broadband channel 6.
"I think most of our fans would like to win one once in a while. I'd like to win one once in a while," Huggins said.
The Wildcats, who dropped a 66-52 decision to KU in Manhattan last season after a 59-55 win at KU, enter as winners of seven straight games. Considering the two teams are tied for second in the league race, KU's tradition-rich building should be rocking tonight just as it did when Jack Hartman and Lon Kruger coached the Wildcats.
"I don't get caught up in that stuff, honestly I don't," former Cincinnati coach Huggins said of fan noise levels in buildings.
"I coached in (Louisville's) Freedom Hall a whole bunch, and when Denny (Crum) was there and Rick (Pitino) got there and when we were both really good and ranked in the top ten in the country. I don't care where you go, there's not a better atmosphere. They sell bourbon there. That was pretty wild, but you go in and play.
"The Shoemaker Center (at Cincy) got pretty wild, but they (Louisville) came in there and won. It's great to have great fans, but the teams that get intimidated aren't really good in all honesty. If they walk out saying the fans beat us, they stink. Fans don't beat you. Guys on the floor beat you."
The soft-spoken coach figures to treat it as business as usual tonight.
"I think a lot of it is the confidence factor. Most teams do play a little bit better at home, but if you go in and just do what you're supposed to do you're fine," Huggins said. "Al McGuire (Marquette legend) said he knew they got good when they walked into any venue with no fear. I think there is tremendous truth to that."
He hopes his Wildcats, who have won five true road games this season, including at Texas, Missouri and Iowa State, do not back down against the Jayhawks tonight.
"They are a great team. That was two great teams playing the other night," Huggins said of KU and Texas A&M. The Aggies stopped the Jayhawks, 69-66, on Saturday in Allen. "Those are far and away the two best teams, the two most talented teams in our league."
KU coach Bill Self is as complimentary of the Wildcats, who are led by Cartier Martin (15.5 ppg), David Hoskins (14.7 ppg) and Lance Harris (11.3 ppg) as well as coach Huggins.
"I think they are doing a great job of combining toughness with poise," Self said. "If you watch David Hoskins, the game is in slow motion to him, and he is still a very tough player.
"Bob's hire has been great also for Cartier Martin (who is now sixth man) because he's become more than what he was before, and he was already pretty good. He has a presence about him now. I think toughness can be defined a lot of ways, but I think Kansas State has a presence, just like Texas A&M did the other night. I think they have done a great job of instilling that."
Self is 1-0 all-time against Huggins. His Tulsa team beat Cincinnati, 69-61, in the second round of the 2000 NCAA Tournament.
"I thought it was a great hire because it brought instant interest to our league and primarily to Kansas State," Self said of the Wildcats tapping Huggins to replace Jim Wooldridge after last season. "I really felt that Kansas State had good players and they still have good players, but it produced a different feeling about the program.
"I was at Oklahoma State when coach (Eddie) Sutton got the job and when he arrived, it was just a different feeling because he had such a great track record. I think the same thing is happening over in Manhattan."
Self senses great interest in tonight's contest and ones to come versus the 'Cats.
"I think it will quickly become a very talked-about rivalry," Self said.
Oops ... there's that "rivalry" word again.
"Great games make rivalries. For as much as you want to sit here and say it, when we were in the bottom half of the Big 12 and were playing them, they weren't all excited. I don't care what they say. You're just not," Huggins said. "You've got to win once in a while to have a great rivalry. Don't kid yourself."