COLUMBIA — Nebraska has one last chance to disappoint Missouri men's basketball fans in Columbia.
Nebraska came to Columbia for the first time in 1911 and lost to the Tigers 39-26. Now, 100 years later, Nebraska’s game Wednesday at Missouri will be its last game in Columbia as part of the Big 12 Conference schedule.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-2, 1-0)
at No. 15 Missouri Tigers (14-2, 0-1)
WHEN: 6 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
RADIO: KCMQ 96.7 FM
TV: KOMU/Channel 8
Missouri has done well in the series against Nebraska since the two first met in 1908 and holds a 125-92 lead. But there have been times when Nebraska has played the role of spoiler.
Cornhuskers knock off No. 1 Missouri
Missouri was ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time during the 1981-82 season. The Tigers held the nation's top ranking for three consecutive weeks and appeared to be the best team in college basketball that season. But that was before Nebraska came to Columbia.
Missouri suffered its worst shooting performance of the season, hitting only 35 percent from the field. The Huskers also held Missouri’s main player, Ricky Frazier, to only six points.
“Missouri was just kind of flat,” Missouri sports historian Michael Atchison said. “I don’t think there’s anything more magical about it other than Nebraska had a good day and Missouri didn’t. It was pretty clearly Nebraska’s biggest win over Missouri.”
Nebraska took advantage of Missouri’s poor shooting and knocked off the top-ranked Tigers 67-51.
“We finally reached a point where they had a good night and we didn’t,” former Missouri coach Norm Stewart said following the loss. “We didn’t have any patience and didn’t have good shot selection. At one point, we got it down to four points and I thought we were in good shape. But then, we did some things that were unnatural. But those things happen. I have to give Nebraska all the credit. They really did a good job.”
Nebraska coach Moe Iba said the victory over Missouri was as big a win as any for Nebraska.
Afterward Missouri fell to No. 4. However, the Tigers bounced back and went on to win the Big Eight championship before they fell to eventual national runner-up Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament.
“They still had a lot to play for and they had a terrific season,” Atchison said. “They ended up winning the conference and had the best season they had ever had up until that point.”
Tigers barely become third undefeated Big Eight champion
By the time they played their regular season finale against Nebraska on March 5, 1994, the Tigers were 13-0 in the Big Eight and were about to becoming only the third undefeated conference champion behind Kansas and Kansas State. It was a major surprise to basketball fans, since Missouri began the season with low expectations and didn't expect to finish high in the standings that season.
But Nebraska didn't make things easy for Missouri.
Missouri trailed 78-77 when Tigers guard Melvin Booker put up a jump shot as he crashed into Nebraska’s Erick Strickland with 16 seconds left in the game. One official called a charging foul on Booker, while another official called a blocking foul on Strickland. Unable to resolve the calls, the officials made the bizarre decision to call a foul on each player. But the possession arrow pointed Missouri's way.
On the inbound play, Booker quickly got into the lane where he hit a jumper and drew a foul. He sank the free throw to give Missouri an 80-78 lead. Nebraska came down the floor for one final shot. Nebraska had trouble finding any good looks, and the ball went to Cornhuskers guard Eric Piatkowski, who was standing about 30-feet from the basket.
“Nebraska couldn’t even get a shot off,” Atchison said. “It was just deafening in there.”
Piatkowski sent up a desperation heave. The ball flew towards the rim then started to go into the basket. The packed Hearnes Center gasped, and after the ball was about halfway through, it popped back out at the buzzer.
“It was complete bedlam,” Atchison said. “The place went insane.”
A week later, in the Big Eight tournament, Nebraska played Missouri again, avenging its earlier loss and defeating Missouri 98-91 in the first round. The win was the first on the way to Nebraska's only Big Eight tournament crown.
Another tournament disappointment
Just as it had in the 1982 and 1994 Big Eight tournaments, Nebraska spoiled Missouri's hopes in last season’s Big 12 tournament in Kansas City. The Cornhuskers defeated the Tigers 75-60 in the first round after Missouri had defeated Nebraska in the regular season by 17 in Columbia and by 15 in Lincoln.
In Kansas City, Nebraska built a 17-point lead in the first 10 minutes and never let it fall below eight. With the loss, Missouri became the second team to lose to a No. 12 seed in the Big 12 tournament’s 14-year history.
“It hurts more than any other loss I’ve ever suffered,” guard Kim English said following the game. “This was our tournament in our state, and we just chucked and gave it to them.”
After Wednesday's contest at Mizzou Arena, a game March 1 in Lincoln will end the Tigers-Cornhuskers series because of Nebraska’s departure to the Big Ten Conference.
Comments Missouri Governor Jay Nixon made in June about Nebraska and Colorado leaving the Big 12 might have given the Cornhuskers some extra motivation. Nixon called the two schools the league's "two weakest basketball programs."
Whatever the reason, Nebraska is playing well so far this season, and entering Wednesday's game, boasts an 11-game winning streak, its longest since the 1993-94 season.