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

Feb 25, 2012, 7:54 PM EDT

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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.

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