Archive for Sunday, February 26, 2012

Border Warriors prove mettle

Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor fights through a pick by Missouri forward Steve Moore as he defends MU guard Phil Pressey during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor fights through a pick by Missouri forward Steve Moore as he defends MU guard Phil Pressey during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

February 26, 2012

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Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

KU coach Bill Self

Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 87-86 overtime victory over Missouri on Feb. 25, 2012.

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

KU players Tyshawn Taylor, Thomas Robinson and Conner Teahan

KU players Tyshawn Taylor, Thomas Robinson and Conner Teahan talk about the Jayhawks' 87-86 overtime victory over Missouri on Feb. 25, 2012.

KU vs. Missouri

Box score

Big comeback against the bitter rival ends with the home team winning, and we all know what happens next. The students make like water breaking through a dam and stream onto the court, forming a sea of flailing bodies.

Not here. On game day, those who pay to walk through the door for a two-hours-and-change show don’t make it about themselves in Allen Fieldhouse, not when the athletes are under the same roof. They know the stage belongs to the players and don’t believe in desecrating it with the footsteps of mere mortals, even when the show happens to have been greater than any they had ever witnessed, replete with a plot twist as improbable as it was delightful.

The patrons left the building Saturday sweating and smiling, shaking their heads over an affirmative response to a pair of questions they no doubt couldn’t stop asking themselves:

1. Did I really just witness my Kansas basketball team recover from a 19-point, second-half deficit to defeat the nation’s third-ranked team with Missouri on its chest in what could be the final time the rivals meet in a long, long time?

Yes.

2. Did the coach who has on his roster a band of basketball players who lead more with emotion than intellect, so often don’t take great care of the basketball, shoot well only in streaks, are cursed with a penchant for spacing out, really just clinch a tie for his eighth consecutive Big 12 title? Even with an eight-man rotation that has two former walk-ons and a mid-major transfer still trying to find his way, and, oh, by the way, just one returning starter from a team that lost two lottery picks and a pair of starting perimeter players?

Yes.

How and how?

The answers to both questions can be traced to the same qualities. The team that defeated Missouri, 87-86 in overtime, is packed with bold players who believe in their ability to win every battle. And they believe their general, coach Bill Self, will prepare them better than the other team’s general. What the players might lack in style, they more than compensate for with a loud competitive streak. Competing is what they do best.

They believe nothing they face in games can be any more difficult than what they face daily in practice. The bigger the challenge, the better they play. The next time the coach looks the other way when a player doesn’t try to meet the high standards he sets will be the first. It’s not easy playing basketball at Kansas, but who wants easy? Not these strong-willed fighters.

When the so-hard-to-guard Marcus Denmon answered a Tyshawn Taylor three-pointer with yet another of his own, the Missouri lead stood at 58-39 with 16:24 left.

The stage was set for a monumental comeback, and the players pulled it off with a methodical assault on the deficit. Making his bid for best supporting actor to Taylor and Thomas Robinson — the names on the marquee — Elijah Johnson triggered the comeback by nailing a pair of three-pointers in 65 seconds. Now Missouri’s lead was 13. Robinson’s jumper made it a much more manageable 11-point deficit. But Missouri’s undersized scoring machines kept ringing up points. Even during a stretch in which Conner Teahan lit the crowd with one of his four three-pointers (in four attempts), Kansas nearly was all the way back in the hole it had started to climb out of when a Kim English drive put the Tigers up, 67-51, with 10:51 left. Expending all that energy on a treadmill to nowhere might have broken less competitive spirits. Not the Big 12 champs.

Kevin Young, the junior transfer from Loyola Marymount, drew another eruption from the audience with a powerful, two-handed flush, and this time Missouri couldn’t curb the momentum. Young’s dunk started a 19-4 run that lasted 8:10. During the blitz, Johnson kept making passes into small openings with Todd Reesing accuracy. Teahan stayed hot. Travis Releford turned up the defensive heat. Taylor patiently yet relentlessly attacked the hoop, and Robinson dominated inside. Robinson not only had the blocked shot that extended the rivalry five more riveting minutes, he also scored 11 points in the final 8:58 of regulation.

Spectators who have been coming regularly for decades to the building that next month turns 57 could not remember it ever being louder than it was during the comeback. As the decibels rose, so too did the temperature. More than just the players were sweating, especially in the upper regions. Body heat rises.

Now it was time for Robinson to cede the spotlight to his co-star Taylor, the excitable, exciting senior guard from Hoboken, N.J., hometown of another great performer, the late crooner, Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. For the day’s script to remain on the too-corny-for-fiction track, Taylor needed to be the one to carry this band of misfit toys to the finish. After all, it was Taylor who played so brilliantly for all but the final two minutes in Columbia, Mo., when it was the Tigers who stormed from way behind to victory. And then he gave it all away. In that one, he dribbled the ball away for one turnover, charged for another and missed a pair of free throws, all in the final two minutes.

In this one, Taylor scored nine points in the overtime. Until these rivals meet again, Taylor can lay claim to having scored the final points, the final field goal and the final free throws against Missouri. He opened the overtime banging a three-pointer and again gave KU a three-point lead with 2:46 left on a sweet one-hander. Twice in a 20-second span of the last half-minute, Taylor turned a one-point deficit into a one-point lead. First, he cut back-door, and Johnson threaded a beauty to him, setting him up for a two-hand slam. And after Denmon hit a baseline shot with 12 seconds left, Taylor drove and was fouled.

He made both free throws to give KU an 87-86 lead that stood as the final score. On a day Taylor and Johnson combined for 13 assists and one turnover, Taylor and Robinson combined to make 15 of 17 free throws. Maybe now the gas bags who can’t seem to stop obsessing on the unsightly warts of Taylor’s game can instead appreciate its breathtaking beauty while a few grains of sand remain in the hour glass of his compelling KU career.

Nobody personifies this team better than Taylor, so amazingly quick but at times not quick enough to get out of his own way, yet in the end best described in one word: winner.

Comments

cato_the_elder 3 years, 5 months ago

Great reference to Reesing, and, impliedly, his pass to Meier to beat the Slavers in 2008.

somebodynew 3 years, 5 months ago

Great article, and thanks for noting the not-storming-the-court. Classy fans, great game and a great article.

kujayhawk7476 3 years, 5 months ago

One of your best ever columns. Nice job!

News_to_me 3 years, 5 months ago

It is a beautiful morning in Lawrence, Kansas!

jaywalker 3 years, 5 months ago

Still giddy! Woke and shouted 'HAWKS! before I'd put a foot on the floor! I'll be giggling all day!!!

Now beware the monumental letdown in Stillwater Monday night. I can almost smell the upset already, but I don't care. Never wanted a win so bad, and to have it come in that fashion, under those circumstances, with all there was at stake............... I don't care if they mail it in tomorrow night!

JS82 3 years, 5 months ago

Well written article. I had the opportunity to be there and it was the best atmosphere I have ever seen. We went from despair to joy in a short period of time...it was awesome.

Charlie Bannister 3 years, 5 months ago

What a fitting end to arguably the best rivalry in the country! I for one hate to see it go. Wish calmer heads would prevail and schedule a game or two a year just to keep it going. I have so many friends on the other side of the state line who feel the same way. We shall see. Great column Mr. Keegan!

Mandie Eutsler 3 years, 5 months ago

I hear what you're saying and sort of agree. However, if there is nothing on the line, what's the appeal? I almost think we should only play them in tournaments. Pre or post season. The reason these games are so important is for the reward. This season it wasn't just bragging rights, it was a championship.

Mandie Eutsler 3 years, 5 months ago

Great article TK! I'm so proud to call myself a Jayhawk today. Not only because of the win, but because of our fans, players, coaches, and they way they all handled themselves. The students can be a classy bunch (aside from the home of the Chief's thing) and good on you for not storming the court. Acting like we've been here before...

jiminycricket 3 years, 5 months ago

We watch college basketball and usually dismiss each dribble and defensive shuffle as meaningless and simply a prelude to the great pass, dunk, or three pointers. It is in those moments that our contrentraion on each dribble and defensive shuffle becomes important that signifies when the game reaches it highest level. It would be similar to the final game of baseball;s World Series, when our consentration focuses on each pitch instead of each run. Win or lose these are the moment fans relish and anticipate without ever realizing it. I'd like thank Missouri for providing us with that moment. and say good luck in ever seeing it again in the SEC.

MIke Mallory 3 years, 5 months ago

The only way we should play MU again, is in the State of Kansas, if not at Allen Fieldhouse, it should be at the new arena in Wichita, or at Livestrong Park, if they can build a basketball court on a air craft carrier, then they can build one there. We have been taking our dollars to Kemper Arena and The Sprint Center for decades now and I have loved it, but how cool would a game be there with that Stadium, the Legends Shopping Center and Restaurants, and the new Hollywood Casino.

chieffan 3 years, 5 months ago

Nice column Keegan. No wishing and hoping on your part. Well crafted.

grammaddy 3 years, 5 months ago

I love waking up in the morning and the Jayhawks are winners!! Winning!!

HiloHawk 3 years, 5 months ago

Don't see any comments from the usual suspects who railed at Wednesday's fallacies. Guess they feel the boys read their comments and corrected their faults accordingly. Must be too busy patting themselves on the back and taking credit for the improved players... Seriously, like the team and coaches, I never doubted we would prevail in the end - losing that game simply wasn't an option!!! I've been vicariously participating in that Border War for 60 years and am truly sorry to see it end. How fitting the finale should be so spectacular! Thanks guys!

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