Mizzou-Kansas was a classic, a perfect way to remember the rivalry


No. 4 Kansas and No. 3 Missouri have played 267 times in the game known as The Border War, one of the most intense rivalries in all of sports. But with Missouri’s impending move to the SEC, this could very well be the last game ever played in the rivalry. Its quite possible — likely, even — that these two teams end up meeting in the Big 12 title game in Kansas City. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that they end up meeting in the Final Four as well. Two rivals playing four times in a season has happened before (see: Duke and Maryland in 2001), and when you are talking about two of the top six or seven teams in the country, its always a possibility.

But as things stand today, there is not another game between the two teams scheduled and there may not be for the foreseeable future. Its certainly the last game to be played between the two on a campus site for a long time.

With National Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson and one of the hottest players in the country in Jeff Withey manning their front line, the question that everyone was asking heading into Kansas’ instant-classic, 87-86 overtime win over Missouri was how the Tigers would deal with that massive front line.

The question we should have been asking? What adjustments do the Jayhawks need to make in order to slowdown Missouri’s four-guard attack, because after surging out to a 44-32 lead at the break, Missouri used an 11-4 run to open up a 55-36 lead on the Jayhawks with just 16:50 left in the game.

So what did Kansas do?

They beat the Tigers at their own game.

Withey was rendered completely ineffective by a bum ankle and the advantage he gave Missouri offensively because of the mismatch, so Bill Self went small. Kevin Young played 28 quality minutes off the bench, finishing with eight boards, four blocks and a pair of dunks in traffic. Then he went smaller, putting four guards around Thomas Robinson and matching up Travis Releford with Kim English at the four.

It worked.

The Jayhawks hit their first five threes in the second half which not only opened up driving lanes for the KU guards to create, it gave Robinson space to go to work in the paint. He scored 11 points as Kansas went on a 24-8 run to force overtime as (who else?) Robinson scored an old-fashioned three-point play to tie the game at 75 and then came up with a block — that every Missouri fan in the country will tell you was a foul — on Phil Pressey to force overtime.

As good as Robinson was down the stretch and as well as Kansas shot to spark the comeback, the reason that the Jayhawks were even in a position to force overtime was due to their defense. Missouri took a 67-51 lead with 10:50 left in the game on a layup from English. The Tigers didn’t score again until a free throw from Phil Pressey pushed the lead back to 10 more than three minutes later. They didn’t hit another field goal until Ricardo Ratliffe scored to push Missouri’s lead to five with 3:50 left to play.

Kansas has the pieces to be a very good defensive team, and they showed it down the stretch as Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson were able to put all kinds of ball pressure on Mizzou’s back court. As a result, it took away from any kind of rhythm that the Tigers had. Kansas was creating turnovers; rather, their defense was forcing contested jumpers and too much 1-on-1 from the Tigers.

So we went to overtime, which was incredibly fitting.

If this rivalry is going to come to an end, it might as well be in the Game of the Year and we might as well get five extra minutes in the process.

And those five extra minutes certainly didn’t disappoint. Kansas jumped out to a four-point lead, but a pair of threes from Marcus Denmon gave Missouri the lead with 43 seconds left, setting up a perfect ending to what used to be a perfect rivalry. Tyshawn Taylor went back door for a dunk, Denmon answered against with a driving layup to take the lead back before Taylor drove and drew a foul — which, again, every Missouri fan will tell you was a blown call. He knocked down both free throws with 8.3 seconds left. On the final possession, Missouri didn’t even get a shot off as Michael Dixon walked the ball up the floor before dribbling into traffic and watching time expire as he tried to get the ball to Denmon.

It was, in this writer’s estimation, the best game of the year. Better than Duke-UNC, better than Indiana-Kentucky, better than Kentucky-UNC. Without a doubt, those four games will fall into the top five for everyone from this season. The fifth? The first battle between these two teams, a 74-71 win for Missouri back on February 4th.

But you’re right.

Canceling this series because of bruised egos, jealousy and a couple (million) dollars is a great idea.

Our sport doesn’t need games like this to survive.

My mind is still racing after this game, so I’m going to throw in a couple of more thoughts that I had. Because I can. What are you gonna do about it?

– Anthony Davis made him claim for National Player of the Year early on Saturday. He went for 28 points, 11 boards and five blocks in a win over Vanderbilt. I think T-Rob’s answer was solid as well. He matched the 28 points, grabbing 12 boards and making big bucket after big bucket as the Jayhawks came back. You can have an opinion about who deserves the award, but if you believe this is anything more than a dogfight right now, you either go to Kansas or go to Kentucky.

– Troy did a post last week on who he would want taking the final shot. As much as I love Tu Holloway — and I still do, even with Xavier’s collapse — I think Marcus Denmon has taken over that role. He scored the last eight points for Missouri in their win over Kansas. He scored eight points in overtime in this loss, including a three and a runner in the final minute that both game the Tigers the lead. Assassin, bad bad man, stud, beast. Whatever adjective you use, he’s it.

– Kansas secured at least a share of the Big 12 title with this win. Its the eighth straight year they can make that claim. Frankly, that’s unreal. You don’t do that in power conferences. You just don’t.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Sister Jean the star of Loyola’s Cinderella run

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Yeah, Loyola beating Tennessee to gain a spot in the Sweet 16 is a great basketball story, but the best news about their Cinderella run is something else entirely.

America gets another week with Sister Jean.

The Ramblers’ 98-year-old team chaplain has captured the hearts of the March Madness public, with her pre-game prayers and post-game celebrations. Clayton Custer’s game-winner was fine, but Sister Jean’s been great.

Loyola, though, will now have to try to defy Sister Jean. She picked against the Ramblers in the Sweet 16 in her bracket.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Azubuike’s presence huge as No. 1 Kansas holds off No. 8 Seton Hall

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It turns out Kansas is a whole heck of a lot better when Udoka Azubuike is in the floor.

Who knew?

The sophomore center returned Saturday for extended minutes after being limited with a knee injury to help the No. 1 Jayhawks to a 83-79 win over No. 8 Seton Hall to earn a spot in the Sweet 16.

Azubuike had 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, but the strongest stat in his column was his plus-minus. When he was on the floor, Kansas bested the Pirates by 21 points. When he was off, the Jayhawks got outscored by 17, and there is noise in that number as Seton Hall continued to put them on the foul line in the last minute with Azubuike on the bench.

The 7-footer’s importance to Kansas has been apparent all season, but it was even starker against the Pirates, whose Angel Delgado feasted when Azubuike wasn’t on the floor.  Seton Hall’s double-double machine finished with 24 points and 23 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to power the Pirates into next week. Neither was Khadeen Carrington’s 28 points, all but two of which came after halftime.

Azubuike’s critical role for Kansas is three-fold. First, he’s very talented. Second, he makes the four-out offense possible. Third, the drop-off behind him – apologies to Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa – is rather significant.

Kansas, which got 28 points from Malik Newman, has to play a very specific way offensively with guard-heavy roster. The Jayhawks have to get up a ton of 3s, and they’ve got to make a bunch of them. Without Azubuike in the middle drawing attention and making it difficult for defenders to stay hugged-up on shooters on the perimeter, the architecture of the offense can crumble in on itself.

Azubuike certainly isn’t a perfect or dominant player, but he rebounds well, blocks shots and makes about three-quarters of his shots. Which, of course, means he fits his role perfectly for maybe the most vulnerable Kansas team in Bill Self’s tenure. The Jayhawks’ margin for error, at least at this juncture against the competition they’re going to see in Omaha, is pretty small. Deviate from the plan and things can get away from them quickly. Duke and Michigan State, Kansas’ presumptive opponents in the Elite Eight, will punish them for any missteps or holes in their gameplan.

Azubuike is the linchpin. When he’s in place, things hold together. When he’s not, there’s trouble.

No. 11-seed Loyola-Chicago beats No. 3 Tennessee to advance to Sweet 16

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Cinderella is headed to the Sweet 16!

For the second time in this tournament, trailing 62-61 on the final possession of the game, Loyola-Chicago has won.

On Thursday, the Ramblers got the benefit of a missed Lonnie Walker free throw and a game-winning three from Donte Ingram to beat No. 6-seed Miami, 64-62.

On Saturday, the situation was almost the same — the Ramblers had the ball with 10.5 seconds left on the clock — but the execution was different.

Clayton Custer hit a jumper with 3.6 seconds left to answer Grant Williams’ and-one and send Loyola-Chicago to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

In the immortal words of Gus Johnson, the slipper still fits:

Loyola was in control of this game for the majority of the second half and led by eight points at the under-four time out, but a pair of threes from Tennessee set up Williams’ and-one on Tennessee’s final possession. Jordan Bone had a shot to win the game at the buzzer that bounced off the back of the rim.

Aundre Jackson led the Ramblers 16 points off the bench as No. 11-seed Loyola landed their second upset of the weekend, beating No. 3-seed Tennessee, 63-62, in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Those 16 points that Jackson scored were the most that any Loyola player scored in either of their games this weekend. The 10 shots that Jackson took in the first round win over No. 3-seed Miami was the only time in those two games that a Rambler player had double-digit field goal attempts. They held Miami and Tennessee to a combined 116 points.

I say all that to say this: Loyola is not a typical Cinderella team. They don’t have some superstar scorer that carried them to this point in the tournament, like a Jairus Lyles from UMBC or a Jon Elmore from Marshall. They’re not a high-scoring team or a team that just-so-happened to catch fire from three at the right time. What they are is a smart, tough and extremely well-coached group that is everything you think of when you picture Missouri Valley basketball.

They aren’t going to give up penetration defensively. They are going to pound the defensive glass. They aren’t going to commit silly turnovers or take dumb shots. They’ll run their offense and trust that whatever their coach calls is going to get them the shot they need to get.

They will not beat themselves, and if you are going to beat them, you’re going to work for every possession.

And it’s worked.

Loyola will advance to Atlanta where they will face the winner of Sunday’s game between No. 2 Cincinnati and No. 7 Nevada. With Buffalo losing and either No. 10-seed Butler or No. 11-seed Syracuse counting as anything close to a mid-major, Loyola, Marshall and UMBC are the only true Cinderella teams left in the tournament. The 16th-seeded UMBC Retrievers, who became the first No. 16 seed to get to the second round of the tournament after a Friday night win over top overall seed Virginia, take on No. 9-seed Kansas State on Sunday while No. 13-seed Marshall gets a date with in-state an rival, No. 5 West Virginia.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander paces No. 5 Kentucky past No. 13 Buffalo

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Its deficit cut to five, Buffalo zipped down the floor in transition. The ball found Jeremy Harris, who stepped into his 3-point shot attempt and let it fly as the crowd in Boise was ready to blow the roof off Taco Bell Arena, hopeful they’d have the chance to will the Bulls to an upset of Kentucky. The shot barrelled toward the basket, carrying Buffalo’s Sweet 16 dreams with it.

The ball, along with control of the game, clanged off the rim and bounced into Kentucky’s hands.

The No. 5 Wildcats turned away No. 13 Buffalo, 95-75, on Saturday to advance to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend.

Buffalo got 26 points from Wes Clark and 18 from CJ Massinburg, and made the Wildcats sweat deep into the second round until things spiraled away from them. Making just 7 of 31 shots from 3-point range and your opponent shooting 56.3 percent from the floor is no recipe for an upset.

Even with a rough shooting day, Buffalo threatened Kentucky time and again, but at every turn, the Wildcats had Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The 6-foot-6 freshman was simply spectacular, scoring 27 points on 10 of 12 shooting. He added six rebounds and six assists for good measure.

Gilgeous-Alexander was an unsolvable problem for Buffalo. The Bulls were never able to find a way to corral or deny him. He just got what he wanted when he wanted it, and what he wanted was buckets. Lots of them.

Inconsistency has been the pock on Gilgeous-Alexander’s rookie campaign, but in recent weeks he’s found his groove. He’s scored in double-digits in nine-straight games. He’s either made shots or gotten to the free-throw line. Sometimes both.

For a Kentucky team without a dominant player, Gilgeous-Alexander’s emergence as a go-to and consistent scorer is huge. The Wildcats are going to have an athletic advantage in almost every game they play. If they’ve got a guy other than Kevin Knox they can count on for 15-plus, that’s going to take a lot of pressure off an offense that doesn’t have the benefit of much in the way of shooting.

The path for Kentucky to the Elite 8 looks incredibly navigable after Virginia’s stunning and historic loss Friday to UMBC. The Wildcats will have to beat a nine or 16 seed to be just 40 minutes from another Final Four.

If Gilgeous-Alexander can continue to be the offensive weapon he’s turned into over the last month, San Antonio may very well be hosting Big Blue Nation in April.

VIDEO: Buffalo’s Nick Perkins posterizes Kevin Knox

Screengrab via CBS
Leave a comment

Buffalo and Kentucky are locked in an entertaining battle on Saturday afternoon, and while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been completely dominant, the play of the day comes courtesy of the Bulls.

After Kentucky pushed their lead to 10 points with less than nine minutes left, Nick Perkins — who is known for as a three-point shooter than anything else — dunked on Kentucky’s soon-to-be lottery pick, Kevin Knox, emphatically: