Columbia, Mo. At first, laid-back Californian Scot Pollard figured his Kansas University basketball elders had to be exaggerating.
No way could University of Missouri fans be as nasty as the 6-foot-11 center’s teammates described.
Or could they?
“We went there my freshman year. The Antlers had a little dummy with a (KU) jersey on it. They couldn’t burn it inside the arena, so they burned it when we got off the bus. Intimidating ... good times,” said Pollard, reflecting on his first Border War battle on Jan. 31, 1994, at MU’s Hearnes Center.
That building has since been replaced by 5-year-old Mizzou Arena, site of today’s 8 p.m. Big Monday clash between the Jayhawks (19-4, 8-0) and Tigers (20-4, 7-2).
“You can talk about it all you want ... you have to experience it,” Pollard said of the atmosphere of a KU-MU game in Columbia, an atmosphere to be experienced by seven KU newcomers for the first time tonight.
“Of all the places we played, we felt the most hatred there,” Pollard added of MU.
Fifteen years after Pollard’s freshman year, the Antlers (MU’s raucous student cheering section) are still up to their old tricks. That’s evidenced by their weekend cell-phone calls to KU coach Bill Self in the wee hours of the morning.
They’ll be screaming insults at the Jayhawks as they get off the bus, during pregame warmups and the entire game.
“I heard they are rude. I don’t care really,” KU junior college transfer Mario Little said. “I know they are only doing it to get under our skin so we don’t play our game.”
The Antlers’ efforts helped foil Pollard’s KU teams, who went 1-3 in Columbia, 3-1 in Lawrence and 1-0 in Kansas City, Mo.
“Playing at Oklahoma State was tough, too, but I think we got extra juice for Missouri — the Border War and coach (Roy) Williams’ rivalry with Norm (Stewart),” Pollard said of the former KU and MU mentors. “I had my career high at Missouri — 22 points, I still remember that,” Pollard added of his offensive explosion in KU’s 102-89 victory his sophomore season at Hearnes Center.
Pollard — who has a home in Lawrence, but spends most of his time in Indianapolis staying in shape while awaiting a call from an NBA team in need of a big man — doesn’t plan to attend tonight’s game.
Another MU antagonist will be there, however: KU legend Isaac “Bud” Stallworth, who exploded for 50 points in KU’s 93-80 victory over the Tigers on Feb. 26, 1972, in Allen FIeldhouse.
Stallworth, whose jersey No. 15 was hung in the fieldhouse rafters four years ago, finished his career 1-2 in Columbia, 3-0 in Lawrence and 1-0 in K.C. for a 5-2 record compared to Pollard’s 5-4 mark.
“To be honest, the crowds (at MU) never bothered me that much,” said Stallworth, who in addition to his 50-point outburst also scored 30, 29 and 28 in games against MU his junior and senior seasons.
“I was more involved in what was going on the court. I really don’t think they were any more hostile than K-State or Oklahoma, plus we played in smaller gyms then. At Nebraska, you were basically sitting in the stands when you took the ball out of bounds.”
Stallworth said he’s been treated well on all his trips to Mizzou. He doesn’t recall the students burning any jerseys during his day.
“I didn’t have problems and don’t have problems with fans at Missouri or K-State,” said Stallworth, who works in the design and construction management department at KU.
“I don’t know if it’s because I’m easy to get along with, but I never have experienced fans making negative comments. Maybe they don’t recognize me,” Bud added with a laugh. “I don’t have offensive things to say about fans. I wear my (KU) colors and wear them with respect.”
Perhaps the reason the Tiger fans don’t razz Stallworth is his positive relationship with former MU coach Stewart, who surely will be in the building tonight as the Tigers try for their 16th consecutive home-court victory.
“I’ve done events with Norm. He’s been very approachable,” Stallworth said. “It’s a respect thing both ways. Somebody will bring it (50-point outing) up. Norm will defend what happened. Being a defensive-minded coach, you work on every scheme, and it didn’t work for him that day.
“That (defense) was what he was hanging his hat on most of the time. He tried everything except come out on the court and guard me himself,” added Stallworth, whose 50 points came without benefit of the three-point shot. Former KU coach Ted Owens has said at least 10 of Stallworth’s 19 buckets that day would have been ruled treys today.
Like Pollard, Stallworth believes there’s no way to warn KU’s first-year players what’s in store at MU.
“You can’t get it off watching tapes,” Stallworth said of the arena atmosphere. “I think a little knowledge can come from Sherron (Collins), who can explain what it’s like in the heat of battle. Cole (Aldrich) can talk to the big men about how much more physical it will be. The way Missouri plays, our guys will be pressed all night, hit all night. The physicality of a game like that is something you don’t see in high school.”
Stallworth likes the fact the Jayhawks are 4-0 in league road games entering tonight’s contest and Saturday’s other rivalry game — at Kansas State.
“I think they (Jayhawks) are starting to play a lot better, especially the frontline guys,” Stallworth said. “At the beginning of the year, they seemed overwhelmed. I don’t want to say they were fearful, but they didn’t understand how difficult the transition from high school to Div. I ball would be.
“(Mario) Little has shown he has made the transition from junior college and can play at this level. The (Morris) twins at the beginning of the year I’d say were ducks out of water. They did not show me what I anticipated would be their ability to play, especially physically, at this level. They dominated on the high school/prep school level. When they got here, I don’t believe they understood it was a whole different ballgame. I think they are beginning to understand.”
Pollard also likes the play of the Jayhawk frontcourt.
“Cole has been better at staying out of foul trouble,” Pollard said of the sophomore center. “Early on, he was doing the Greg Ostertag thing (fouling a lot). Little has come out on fire. Obviously, the twins are doing well, as well. I guess early on it was more surprising they weren’t doing well. It’s an adjustment from high school to college. It’s just different.”
So different, especially at Missouri.
“It’ll be tough. They try to squeeze you, try to do different things,” KU junior guard Collins said, referring to the pressing Tigers, not their fans. “We have to hold our composure, run our plays and execute.
“They (fans) will be saying things to us. It’s like that in all of our road games. You have a tight huddle and concentrate on what’s going on the court, not in the stands.”