San Jose, Calif. The Rev. Bob Flannery actually prayed for this: Kansas against Southern Illinois, with the winner receiving Sweet 16 salvation and a chance to play for passage into hoops heaven: the NCAA Final Four and a national championship.
Now he just needs a miracle.
"But that rarely happens," Flannery said with a chuckle, of the prospects for a tie game Thursday, then free passage for both teams to the national title game April 2 in Atlanta. "For me, that would be the perfect way to do it."
That's because Flannery - who grew up in Lawrence wearing crimson and blue, attending games at Allen Fieldhouse and cheering for the Jayhawks - ends his Sunday Masses these days with an earnest, "Go Salukis!"
As pastor of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Carbondale, Ill., Flannery leads a congregation that includes the Southern Illinois football coach, several SIU professors and dozens of others affiliated with the school, KU's opponent in a 6:10 p.m. CDT Thursday game at HP Pavilion in San Jose. The victor will play UCLA or Pittsburgh on Saturday for a spot in the Final Four.
"I'm conflicted," he said, "but I'm a winner either way."
Back in Lawrence, Joe Flannery - president of Weaver's Department Store, a KU alumnus and die-hard Jayhawk fan - has heard about how his older brother had told his parishioners that he would be pulling for the Salukis.
KU already has won national titles, the priest told them; now it is SIU's turn to win one.
Not that brother Joe buys it.
"Naturally, he's preaching to the choir," Joe Flannery said.