Lincoln, Neb. — Two crises apparently averted, it’s time for me to embrace the final Kansas-Nebraska basketball game to be played in cozy, underrated Devaney Center.
First things first: Just making it to this game has proven to be a minor miracle.
The Lubbock airport was crippled by wintry weather all day Wednesday, making it impossible for the Journal-World/KUsports.com crew to return from Tuesday’s KU-Texas Tech game until mid-afternoon Thursday.
The barrage of flight cancellation notices on my cell phone all day Wednesday started to make me wonder (panic) if I, Tom Keegan, Jesse Newell and Richard Gwin would even be out of Texas by 3 p.m. Saturday, much less in Lincoln in time for the 3 p.m. tipoff.
Even worse (for me) was a case of food poisoning that struck shortly after typing in the first paragraph of my KU-Texas Tech game story. I’ll spare you the details of what it took to produce what is sure to be an award-winning gamer and set of game notes.
Holed up in the hotel all day Wednesday, I tried to believe the symptoms would last just 24 hours. Suffice it to say I was a bit skeptical after hour No. 12 of the invasion of my immune system.
We made it back to Lawrence by late-afternoon Thursday. Thanks, Southwest Airlines, for finally getting us out of there. The inner pangs of poisoning have subsided a bit, I think, so it’s up I-75, head left at Nebraska City onto Highway 2, for the 23rd straight year of KU-NU matchups.
To be honest, I hadn’t even considered waxing nostalgic about Saturday’s final KU-NU meeting in Lincoln (fat chance of the schools ever scheduling regular-season games again following NU’s departure to the Big Ten next season) until I received an e-mail from Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald requesting some memories of trips to Lincoln.
So ... here are a few:
• March 20, 1988: The eventual 1988 national champion Jayhawks needed some good fortune to defeat Cinderella candidate Murray State in a second-round NCAA Tourney game in Devaney Center.
The Racers’ Don Mann missed an off-balance four-footer with a couple of seconds left. It was a shot that, had it fallen, would have ended KU’s season and Danny Manning’s career, 60-59.
Instead, Mann’s easy shot attempt missed, Manning (the better Mann this day, pun intended) rebounded, was fouled, hit two free throws, and KU survived and advanced.
It arguably was KU’s toughest game of the tourney, save for an 83-79 title victory over Oklahoma in the championship game in Kemper Arena.
Good karma returned in 2008 when KU headed to Nebraska again — this time Omaha — for first- and second-round victories en route to another NCAA crown.
• Feb. 19, 1992: NU’s Jamar Johnson hit a three at the overtime buzzer to erase a 79-78 deficit and propel NU to an 81-79 victory over No. 3 KU.
As the fans knocked the media out of the way and stormed the court, NU coach Danny Nee hopped on the press table and waved wildly to the crowd. The fans actually cut down the nets in Devaney Center that day.
It marked KU’s fifth loss in its last six trips to Lincoln.
Times have changed. KU has won six in a row in Devaney entering Saturday’s series finale.
• Feb. 24, 2002: KU’s Brett Ballard decided to pass to a freshman — Keith Langford — instead of a senior — Jeff Boschee — with the game on the line.
Langford hit a three with 33 seconds left to give KU an 88-87 Big 12-title-clinching victory with two games still left on the schedule.
Drew Gooden rebounded a last-second miss by John Turek and heaved the ball high in the air as KU, which overcame a 12-point second-half deficit, celebrated winning the regular-season title. The Jayhawks went undefeated in the Big 12 that season.
• Jan. 30, 2007: KU led 39-6 and 43-8 en route to a 76-56 victory over the shell-shocked Huskers and their stunned-silent fans. I’ve never seen a team get off to such a sizzling start on the road.
I’m sure plenty of KU fans, who make the three-hour drive to Lincoln every year, will miss the KU-NU series. A majority of those fans/autograph seekers stick around after the game to form a human tunnel outside the Jayhawk locker room.
Personally, I won’t miss the drive up and back on I-75, having twice been ticketed returning from Huskerland.
The second time, I was going pretty fast, and I think the police officer was tempted to throw me in the hoosegow.
However, the J-W’s Tom Keegan reminded the lovable man in blue that sometimes in strange rental cars you lose track of how fast you are going. That is true when you really think about it.
Another crisis averted, and on to the next road trip.
It’s been mighty cold — and sometimes there’s been snow coming and going — but I’ve not yet been caught in a whiteout heading up to a KU-NU basketball game.
Now the old Big Eight Indoor track meet? That blizzard is another story for another day. Let’s just say it’s not fun changing a flat tire with zero visibility in sub-zero temperatures. About as much fun as enduring a case of food poisoning.