Winning a game against Kansas can salvage a Missouri men’s basketball season. As the fans rush the court to celebrate a win against the Jayhawks, the rest of the season seems to leave their minds.
Losing to rival-Kansas twice in one season, however, can remind Missouri fans how poorly the season has gone. For the past three seasons, a goal of reaching the NCAA tournament has seemed too lofty. During those years, Missouri’s season has rested on the Kansas game.
That mind-set might have worked during the past two seasons when the Tigers were able to upset Kansas at Mizzou Arena. But on Saturday, the Jayhawks blew out the Tigers, 92-74, in front of a sell-out home crowd of 15,061. And thus, possibly the last chance for the Tigers (14-9, 3-7 Big 12 Conference) to put a positive spin on yet another losing conference season was missed.
“It just says a lot,” Missouri guard Keon Lawrence said. “We just embarrassed ourselves. This game is supposed to be more competitive. But we didn’t really compete too much.”
Competitive is one of the last words that will be used to describe the game. Kansas (21-4, 8-2 Big 12) proved on Saturday that it is not only the more talented team, but a better executing one as well. Both halves of the game were filled with alley-oop lob passes by Kansas guards, including a stretch of three straight alley-oop dunks and layups by guard Brandon Rush and forward Julian Wright.
Missouri had no answer for either Rush or Wright, both of whom dominated the Missouri defense. Wright’s energy level was high from the opening tip. Kansas guard Sherron Collins said a video played on the scoreboard excited the Jayhawks’ bench.
The video, which was played moments before Missouri’s starting lineup was announced, included highlights from the past two games at Mizzou Arena, both won by the Tigers. Jayhawks players watched as Kansas forward Christian Moody’s free throws from last year’s game were played in slow-motion. After the video ended, a demonstrative Wright turned to the Kansas huddle and clapped each teammate’s hand.
“It just told us how important this is to them,” Collins said. “Especially when they showed the film during the starting lineup. The only highlights were against us. So we took it like a chip on our shoulder, something to come out and fight against. And I think that’s what we did.”
The importance of the game to Missouri has been heightened over the past few years because the Tigers have had little chance of a postseason. The game is, of course, the loudest game of the season at Mizzou Arena every year. Fans are suddenly eager to participate in every cheer, especially those bashing the Jayhawks.
“It was by far one of the best atmospheres we’ve played in on the road so far,” Collins said.
But the players realize the game’s importance as well. After a dunk in the first half, center Kalen Grimes hung his left hand on the rim for a few extra seconds, drawing a reaction from the crowd.
“You can see the fans, they like it, too,” Grimes said of the rivalry. “Of course you’re going to be a little more energized and have a little more emotions. I’m not going to lie, my freshman year, I was nervous. So I wouldn’t doubt it from any other freshman.”
Those nerves might have hurt Missouri, especially at the start of the game. Guard Stefhon Hannah, who was playing a home game against Kansas for the first time, had one of his “worst halves of basketball” according to coach Mike Anderson. He turned the ball over five times in the first half.
Also, Missouri consistently settled for 3-pointers, a popular shot among the large crowd when it’s made. The Tigers took 30 shots from beyond the 3-point line, only making eight. Anderson said the shots were a sign Missouri wasn’t playing as smart as it could have been.
“We shot ourself out of the game,” Lawrence said. “We didn’t start attacking until about seven minutes left in the second half.”
The Tigers’ rarely drove the ball to the basket in the first half, leading to a poor offensive performance. Forward Marshall Brown, who has had success during the conference season because of his willingness to attack the goal, took only four shots in the first half and finished with only three points in the game.
“Where is Marshall Brown in this game?” Anderson said. “That’s what you say to yourself.”
Missouri actually got off to a 16-8 lead before Anderson said some of the starters began to tire. He decided to sub in four reserves, a change that seemed to take away all of the Tigers’ momentum.
Missouri shot nine 3-pointers in the game’s first seven minutes. Kansas responded with a 24-2 run against the Tigers, building a 14-point lead and putting the game away early.
Kansas, which struggled against Missouri’s full-court traps in the opening minutes, calmed down and easily dribbled up and down court during the run. Coach Bill Self had Kansas’ big men attack the middle of the press and find open guards to pass the ball. Once through the press, the Jayhawks went on fastbreak after fastbreak, leading to dunks and alley-oops worthy of highlight videos.
“One thing about our team, they’re usually good in the open court,” Self said. “And with the way Mizzou plays, they hurt us with their press a lot. We had a lot of errors. But when we got the ball in the middle, we usually had some good things happen. They benefited from that a lot.”
After Kansas’ run, the Tigers began to take out their frustrations on the officiating. Anderson picked up his first technical foul of the season. The fans followed in showing their frustration. As the referees walked into the tunnel for halftime, they were showered with trash thrown by fans.