'Ugly and brutal' game sends fans in San Jose packing

Sunday, March 25, 2007

— Jack Merriman is a fan of Brandon Rush. Watched Brandon Rush. Even dressed up like Brandon Rush.

But he couldn't help Brandon Rush - KU's leading scorer Saturday, with 18 points - lead Kansas to the Final Four.

"Ugly and brutal," Merriman said after the game, filing out of HP Pavilion in San Jose after a 68-55 loss. "We couldn't hold onto the ball - couldn't hold onto the ball, and couldn't shoot free throws."

Now, after KU turned the ball over 21 times and made only five of 11 free throws, Merriman is left looking for a buyer for his Final Four tickets.

"I wish UCLA luck," he said.

¢ Youthful optimism: Jordan George, a high school sophomore, may not have liked the ending of Saturday's game.

But he's sure looking forward to his junior year.

"If nobody's going pro, we've got a great shot," said George of the Jayhawks who play for the school he'd like to attend in a couple of years. "This is a lot better than it's been the last two years, losing in the first round. We've made a lot of progress in the last two years."

D.J. Hilding - who, as a KU grad student, is a few years ahead of George - found himself following the younger guy's logic.

"Hopefully everybody is coming back," he said. "Now we have the (winning) experience in a tournament, which we haven't had the past two years. That made a difference today for UCLA."

¢ Jayhawk is old hat: Bill Pitner isn't your typical "Kansifornian."

Yes, he attended Kansas University. His wife, Kay, graduated from there and his brother, Pat, played basketball there (on the freshman team, a year after Wilt Chamberlain).

Pitner's son, Brett, and daughter-in-law, Katie, went to KU and still live in Lawrence.

But what really sets this school teacher apart in a flock of Jayhawks isn't what's in his heart, but instead perched atop his head: a vintage 1931 (or '32 or '33) handmade felt Jayhawk that could just very well be the oldest "Beak 'Em Hawk" still in circulation.

"I don't know exactly what it is," Pitner said. "The best part about it is, I don't have to look at it."

Pitner figures he's worn the faded felt with the elongated beak - the headgear his dad, Robert, wore as a KU cheerleader on the all-male squad back in the early '30s - to about 50 games, whether it's at NCAA or conference tournaments or Allen Fieldhouse. He still makes it back to Lawrence every now and again, using the season tickets he continues to bankroll despite living and working now in Long Beach, Calif.

Now he'll put it away until next year.

"I hear all kinds of good comments," he said. "It's a fun hat."

¢ Pregame pep talk: Kevin Corbett, president of the KU Alumni Association, took to the bullhorn during a pregame pep rally Saturday afternoon and told about 400 crimson-and-blue fans what many of them already knew.

In restaurants and elsewhere during the NCAA Tournament's west regionals, he said, he'd been hearing plenty about the differences between a relatively small town in Kansas and the larger metropolis in California.

"They say it's 'Boondocks vs. Beverly Hills,'" Corbett called out, to groans from a comparatively well-heeled group of crimson-and-blue followers adjacent to the well appointed Fairmont Hotel, the official team accommodations for the regional.

But fear not, he said. Kansas needn't step back for anyone.

"We're Kansas basketball," he said, drawing cheers.