Missouri's furious rally ignites euphoriaMarcus Denmon scored nine straight points to lift Missouri ahead of Kansas in the closing seconds
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Even if they never play again after this season, Missouri fans gladly will continue hating Kansas until basketballs no longer are bounced on this Earth. Kansas fans will eagerly return the disfavor. Their Midwestern mutual enmity has the same half-life as radioactive uranium.
But if Saturday night was the last time the Tigers' faithful got a chance to hate the Jayhawks in person and in their own building, well, it could not have been any sweeter. Whenever alums of the future SEC member get together over a beer at Harpo's, Booches or the Field House, they'll giddily remember the events of Feb. 4, 2012.
The lovely Columbia parting gift fourth-ranked Missouri bestowed on its biggest rival was a stunning 11-0 run to the buzzer for a 74-71 victory that blew the roof off Mizzou Arena. Kansas has dominated this age-old series but also has taken some gut shots in Columbia over the years – and this one might have been the worst.
The eighth-ranked Jayhawks had an eight-point lead and the ball with 2 1/2 minutes to play. They didn't score again, finishing the game with four turnovers, two missed field goals and two missed free throws in their final six possessions.
Asked what went wrong down the stretch, coach Bill Self crisply and accurately answered, "Everything."
That's exactly what went right for resilient Missouri, which is having a dream season under first-year coach (and strong national coach of the year candidate) Frank Haith. His Tigers made difficult shots. Took charges. Gouged the ball loose.
They simply ripped the game away from Kansas.
Guard Marcus Denmon, exploding out of a shooting slump with 29 points, scored nine in a row in 68 great seconds to give the Tigers the lead. Then Michael Dixon iced it with two free throws with 9.8 seconds left.
"Myself and my teammates are a bunch of winners," said Denmon, who had made just 5 of his past 31 3-point attempts before Saturday, when he made 6-of-9.
Even when it looked bleakest, Missouri senior Kim English kept telling his teammates they were going to win. For some strange reason, they believed him.
"We truly never thought we were going to lose the game," Dixon said.
The guys in uniform were in the minority on that sentiment. This game appeared all but over after Kansas seized control, building a small second-half lead into a solid advantage inside the final three minutes.
Thomas Robinson was firming up his Big 12 Player of the Year candidacy at that point, having hit the Tigers with a bruising 25 points and 13 rebounds. Tyshawn Taylor was continuing his recent roll with 21 points. The Jayhawks were close to putting a hammerlock on the league race in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
Then everything changed.
"Tonight was our game to win," Self said. "And we just didn't get it done."
[Recap: Missouri surges past Kansas 74-71]
First, Robinson traveled on an ill-advised drive to the basket. Then Denmon drove the baseline on Robinson, scored and was fouled. He hit the free throw to make it 71-66 with 2:05 left.
On Kansas' next possession, Robinson was called for a charge when he drove on Missouri center Steve Moore. Self was asked about the play and did not complain, but did say, "I was told I don't want to see the tape."
Jayhawks fans will howl about that call for a long time. In response, the rest of the Big 12 will say, "We've been to Allen Fieldhouse. We know what home cooking tastes like."
Denmon then swished a ridiculous 3-pointer, curling off a screen and shooting it almost before he'd even sighted the basket. That reduced the deficit to two with 90 seconds to play.
When Taylor turned it over, it gave Denmon one more chance to be the hero. He obliged by hitting a corner "3" for Missouri's first lead since 44-43, reopening Big 12 Player of the Year voting on the spot.
There was a lot more basketball to play, though. Taylor was fouled and bricked two free throws with 41.3 seconds left. Mizzou's Phil Pressey returned the favor by missing a front-end free throw with 22.7 left. Then Dixon slid in front of Taylor to take a charge in the final 10 seconds, and made two foul shots for the final margin.
Kansas had a final possession and ran a familiar play, a dribble handoff on the right wing for a 3-point shot. That's the same play Self called for the Mario Chalmers 3-pointer to tie Memphis in the 2008 national championship game.
But he didn't have Chalmers this time. Instead it was Elijah Johnson, who completed the Kansas meltdown by passing up the open shot, then forcing up a wild one at the buzzer that missed badly.
All that remained was the court storming by the raucous student section, but English surprisingly waved it off.
"I didn't want a big rah-rah celebration," English explained, citing that this is just one more installment in what promises to be a dandy Big 12 stretch run between the Tigers, Baylor and Kansas.
Rest assured, Missouri fans stormed in their hearts.
[Photos: Missouri celebrates after wild rally]
The teams meet again Feb. 25 in Lawrence, then possibly a third and final time in Kansas City – Ground Zero for the rivalry – in the Big 12 tournament. Haith said he'd like to see the series continue even after the Tigers relocate to the SEC. Self said Mizzou shouldn't get its hopes up.
"It's not going to happen in the near future," he said. "They chose to be somewhere else, and that's fine. So be it. … Missouri wanted this, so why should I feel bad?"
I'm a Missouri alum, but I understand Self's point. The Tigers are the ones walking out on the relationship; they can't expect Kansas to understand and take them back for a non-conference game. Same goes for Texas and Texas A&M in football.
You leave? You understand what you're leaving and what the damage may be to the relationship.
That's the cost of realignment. Great rivalries ruined.
But if this was goodbye to the Border War in Columbia, Missouri at least got the last laugh in a rivalry that will outlive its expiration date.
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