The line's been written many times over the years by many writers: death, taxes and Kansas winning the Big 12. All three seem to essentially be guarantees, but many (myself included) felt that this would be the season in which that would change given the Jayhawks' personnel losses from last year's Elite 8 team. No Morrii, Brady Morningstar of Tyrel Reed meant that this was supposed to be a rebuilding year of sorts for Bill Self and his staff...or so many thought.
It was fitting that the Big 12 title came down to a matchup of two bitter rivals in Kansas and Missouri, as they staged a thriller in Columbia earlier this month. And sure enough round two provided a great deal of suspense, with a pair of Tyshawn Taylor free throws with 8.3 seconds remaining in overtime giving the Jayhawks the 87-86 win and (at least) a share of their eighth straight Big 12 crown. Adding to the good feelings in Lawrence is the fact that Missouri is headed to the SEC after this season, marking the end of a chapter in this storied rivalry (they'll play again, so let's all calm down).
"I can't even put it into words," remarked Thomas Robinson when asked about what the win meant. "We're never going to be a part of something as big as this game was tonight. Just when I thought we couldn't get to another level, we stuck together and got better tonight."
Robinson and Taylor led the way for the Jayhawks, with Robinson accounting for 28 points and 12 rebounds and Taylor adding 24, five assists, four rebounds and just one turnover. But it takes more than just two players to come back from a 19-points deficit, tying a school record for the largest Kansas comeback at Allen Fieldhouse. Jeff Withey was ineffective, just as he was in the first meeting, due to both the style of play and a first half ankle injury, but the seldom-used Kevin Young stepped up with eight rebounds and a team-high four blocked shots.
And Connor Teahan came off the bench to knock down four three-pointers and score 12 points, helping to make up for Travis Releford's 1-for-7 afternoon from the field. Taylor's play in the final seconds of overtime may have decided the outcome but those three-point and foul line splits, areas which were in favor of the Tigers in Columbia, were vital aspects of the comeback. Kansas was outscored by just six points from beyond the arc (33-27) on Saturday compared to 12 (30-18), and they outscored Missouri 22-15 (14-5 Mizzou in Columbia) from the foul line.
Marcus Denmon led the Tigers with 28 points and simply put the Tigers were rolling during a eight-plus minute stretch spanning the two halves, going from tied at 31 with 5:35 remaining in the first half to up 19 (55-36) with 17:03 left in regulation. In that 24-5 run the Tigers knocked down four three-pointers, and Missouri would continue to lead by double figures until the 8:58 mark in the second half. Kansas would make their charge at that point, holding Missouri without a field goal for just over five minutes and eventually tying the score at 75 on Robinson's three-point play with 16.1 seconds remaining.
That wouldn't be the end of regulation however as Missouri had one last shot at the win, but Robinson made sure the game required extra time with an emphatic block of Phil Pressey's shot attempt with two seconds to go. Pressey finished with eight points and 12 assists and Ricardo Ratliffe added 22 points and 12 rebounds, but Pressey fouling out of the game played a role in the Tigers not getting a shot at the end of overtime. Following Taylor's free throws Michael Dixon Jr. had the ball but took too long to get things going, and by the time Denmon got the ball time had expired.
"We didn't execute what we talked about," said Denmon. "We ended up not being able to get a shot up when there was eight seconds left coming out of the free throw situation."
Will there be a round three in Kansas City? There's always the possibility of that happening but teams such as Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State have the ability to preventing it. On the line in Kansas City could be a one-seed in the NCAA tournament, and at the very least the opportunity to have the road to New Orleans make a stop in St. Louis. And that's something few expected to be a possibility for either of these teams back in October. Yet here they are, and once again there's Kansas on top of the Big 12. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Five Notable Performances
1. F Chris Gaston (Fordham)
35 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots in the Rams' 67-62 win over La Salle.
2. F Anthony Davis (Kentucky)
28 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots in the Wildcats' 83-74 win over Vanderbilt.
3. G/F Kent Bazemore (Old Dominion)
37 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two steals in the Monarchs' 73-72 loss to Drexel.
4. G Jamaal Franklin (San Diego State)
31 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks in the Aztecs' 74-66 win over Colorado State.
5. F Trey McCorkle (IPFW)
28 points (13-14 FG), seven rebounds, three blocks and two assists in the Mastodons' 76-73 win over UMKC.