Published November 20, 2014
It was the best atmosphere that Kansas coach Bill Self could remember. Thomas Robinson said the Jayhawks rose to another level. Tyshawn Taylor simply smiled, shook his head in disbelief, and tried to describe his emotions.
"I'm so proud of my teammates," he said finally. "They stuck it out, man."
In the final scheduled game between Kansas and Missouri, it was only fitting the two bitter adversaries would need five extra minutes to decide it.
Robinson's three-point play in the waning moments of regulation kept their 105-year-old rivalry alive, and Taylor's foul shots with 8.3 seconds remaining gave the fourth-ranked Jayhawks a dramatic 87-86 victory over the No. 3 Tigers on Saturday.
"That couldn't have been scripted a lot better for us," said Self, whose team wrapped up a share of an unprecedented eighth straight conference championship. "I'm not the most emotional guy, but that's about as good as it gets."
Missouri, which blew a 19-point second-half lead, never got off a winning try after Taylor's two free throws. Michael Dixon was boxed in by Robinson as he tried to get to the basket, and the buzzer eventually sounded on a series steeped in tradition.
"These guys played their hearts out. We left it on the court," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "I read everything — we weren't supposed to be in the game. We came out and competed."
Robinson finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds for Kansas (24-5, 14-2), which sent the Tigers off to the Southeastern Conference with a bitter taste in their mouths.
Taylor added 24 points and five assists, and Connor Teahan knocked down all four of his 3-pointers as the Jayhawks mounted their big second-half charge.
"Just the whole situation combined made it one of the best victories I've been a part of," said Teahan, who was a freshman on the 2008 national championship team.
Marcus Denmon had 28 points to lead Missouri (25-4, 12-4). Ricardo Ratliffe finished with 22 points, Dixon added 17 and Kim English had 11.
"We had the game in our hands," English said. "We gave them a gift."
The Tigers were controlling the game early in the second half, but Kansas methodically chopped away, Robinson working inside and the Jayhawks taking advantage of the Tigers' foul trouble.
Robinson's basket inside with 2:28 remaining got the Jayhawks within 71-70, and Travis Releford answered a basket by Denmon with two free throws. Ratliffe restored a three-point lead with two foul shots of his own, but the Jayhawks still had time to draw even.
Robinson took a feed in the post and backed down Dixon, getting his leaner to go as he was undercut for the foul. His free throw with 16.1 seconds left tied the game at 75.
"I want to see that foul," Haith said afterward.
The Tigers had the final possession, clearing the lane for Phil Pressey to drive to the rim. But Robinson was there once more, swatting away his shot to force overtime.
"I think I had my eyes closed, to be honest with you," Robinson said.
Kansas struck first in the extra session when Taylor curled in a 3-pointer. Denmon's 3 kept the Tigers close, and another 3 from the wing with 39 seconds left gave them an 84-83 lead.
Taylor pushed Kansas back ahead when he dunked off a bounce pass from Elijah Johnson with 26.2 seconds left, and Denmon's baseline jumper with 12 seconds to go set up some high drama.
As if the series could have ended any other way.
"It's a great rivalry. It's two schools that fiercely don't like each other, hooking up and going after it," Self said. "We saw the best they had to offer, they saw the best we had to offer, and it's sad to see it end, but playing once a year with nothing in it doesn't mean as much."
The schools started playing in 1907, and joined the same conference the following year, setting the stage for more than a century of animosity. There have been bench-clearing brawls, game-winning shots and enough colorful characters to make both sides proud.
But all that will end with the Tigers leaving for the SEC. Officials from Kansas have no intention playing out of conference, feeling as though Missouri jilted fellow members of the Big 12 and nearly brought the league to ruin with their decision to depart.
"This game meant a lot to both schools, both teams — maybe the last time we play," Haith said. "That'd be sad if you saw the atmosphere out there today, and the atmosphere in our place — it'd be sad if we don't play. I don't understand it. It's too good of a game."
Students began lining up for prime seats at daybreak last Sunday, and thousands formed a mob outside Allen Fieldhouse leading up to tipoff. They poured into the venerable gym the moment the doors cracked open, working themselves into a wall of noise during player introductions.
The sound registered at 120.2 decibels, roughly equal to that of a jet engine.
The opening few minutes of the 267th meeting lived up to the billing, both teams pounding away at each other with the passion and fury that can only be cultivated over time.
"That was the best atmosphere for a stretch there," Taylor said. "I couldn't even hear."
The lead went back-and-forth until the 4:43 mark, when Johnson picked up his third foul and Pressey's free throws gave Missouri a 33-31 lead. Robinson was called for charging moments later, and Pressey added a 3-pointer to give the Tigers some breathing room.
The lead slowly began to grow, and when Denmon tracked down a loose ball and hit a 3 to close the first half, the Tigers had built a 44-32 lead.
It grew to 19 points after the break, and that deafening noise inside the Phog? Well, it was quiet enough that the cheerleaders' pom-pons could be heard from the stands.
It didn't stay that way for long.
The Jayhawks slowly climbed back into the game, and the volume slowly began to rise. Kevin Young's dunk and Teahan's 3-pointer got the crowd on its feet, and Robinson's third-chance basket trimmed the lead to 67-58 with 8:56, forcing Haith to call a timeout.
The Jayhawks simply kept coming, persevering through their own foul trouble and ultimately relying on their two best players — Robinson and Taylor — when it mattered most.
Kansas's 22nd straight win at Allen Fieldhouse ensured its 12th title in the 16-year history of the Big 12, one that will be especially sweet given the circumstances.
"Words can't even describe it, for real," Taylor said. "That's what we play our season for. After every huddle we yelled, 'Big 12 champions,' because that's what we want to be."
At the expense of Missouri, that's what they are.