Sunday, February 5, 2012

All Roads in the Big 12 Go Through Lawrence

I won't bury the lead.

Last night's Border War between Kansas and Missouri was everything a rivalry game should be: passionate, intense, emotional and down to the wire.

Regardless of any preseason expectations, I think it's safe to say Kansas will always be at the top of the conference. They're talented and well-coached, not to mention being backed by a rabid fanbase that creates a fantastic homecourt advantage. So even though they weren't picked to win this year, it's hard to believe they wouldn't put up a fight. Now, of course, everyone is singing a different tune. And even though Missouri had the higher ranking heading into the game, I got the feeling they were considered a little bit of an underdog.

I wish I could have been at that arena last night....WOW. It was a completely electric atmosphere--so much so you would have thought the Jayhawks were walking in ranked #1.

The game started fast, the crowd fed off the pace, the teams fed off the crowd and it stayed close--13 lead changes in the first half alone. The one thing I thought was interesting was that Kansas seemed to really find it easy to go inside...and yet didn't really exploit that enough.

The difference-maker in that first half was the explosiveness of Mizzou's guards and in particular, the play of Marcus Denmon. Homeboy's been in something of a shooting slump the last few games and chose this opportunity to bust out of it in a big way.

The 2nd half was a bit of a different story. KU came out really aggressive and finally seemed to be taking advantage of their size--grabbing rebounds, scoring in transition, hitting the offensive boards and getting 2nd chance 8-0 run later, they were on top.

With about 4 minutes left in the game, Mizzou went cold from 3, started forcing some bad shots and I even turned to my friend and said, "looks like Kansas is about to run away with it..."

Then a couple of interesting things happened. With just under 2 minutes to go, KU's Thomas Robinson (who'd been lighting it up in the 2nd half) drove down the lane and got called for an offensive foul--which just happened to be his 4th personal. On the ensuing possession, the hero of the hour, Marcus Denmon, came off a screen and hit a HUGE 3. BAM. Momentum = shifted.

From that point on, it was all Tigers. Kansas seemed to go into desperation-mode (which I've seen them do a couple times this year), making stupid frustration fouls and allowing themselves to get out of control when trying to draw contact on the offensive end (usually resulting in offensive fouls and turnovers). If they want to be successful come March, that HAS to stop. Tourney games are often tight and come down to the wire (I know, a statement worthy of Captain Obvious) and losing your poise is what sends you home.

Of course, I was excited to see Mizzou get a huge win and see my man, Phil Pressey get to shine! But the regular season is far from over and Missouri still has a few big obstacles in their way...the largest being a return trip to Phog Allen Fieldhouse in a few weeks. Suffice it to say the Jayhawks (and their fans) will be waiting.

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