Allen Fieldhouse was built for games like this.
During the nine full seasons that Kansas went without facing its historical rival from across the state line, seldom did the name of an opponent alone drum up the type of atmosphere that makes college basketball, and this venue in particular, memorable. Outside of Kentucky running onto James Naismith Court to face the Jayhawks, nothing sets a KU home crowd off quite like Missouri.
Thanks to time healing some old SEC exit wounds, KU basketball versus Mizzou returned from its nine-year hiatus on Saturday. And KU’s fans ate up every second of it.
Between the pandemic diminishing crowds to more of an afterthought status for a full season and the renewal of the Border Showdown happening in Lawrence instead of Columbia, Missouri, the scene actually lived up to the hype — even if the 102-65 rout robbed it of drama or status as an all-time classic.
As much as senior Ochai Agbaji, junior Christian Braun and sophomore Dajuan Harris and their teammates deserve credit for executing on the floor, even Bill Self admitted the 16,300 in attendance deserved an assist for setting the tone. Self acknowledged that the maniacs who spent the afternoon jumping and screaming and occasionally yelling not so PG things at the Tigers actually had a lot to do with the Jayhawks’ energy and focus.
“It was great to start,” Self said of the Border Showdown’s return. “The crowd was amped and we were amped. Great atmosphere. We played extremely well, so that made it more fun — at least for us.”
This was a two-hour long party if you showed up wearing crimson and/or blue.
Though the game lacked entertainment value for any neutral observer tuning in on ESPN, it had everything KU fans who love to hate Mizzou had been missing all these years.
KU’s student section was littered with signs like, “Mizzou Hates Christmas.” The rabid fans got to jeer a Tigers coach for the first time in nearly a decade, and delighted in watching Cuonzo Martin get whistled for a technical foul.
And as loud as they got to erupt following a 3-pointer from Harris or Agbaji or Braun’s hammer dunk in the first half, they also got to boo their hearts out. When a replay on the video board showed that Mizzou big man Jordan Wilmore gave a get-off-me arm extension in the general direction of Mitch Lightfoot’s head, the fans showered their rivals with boos, and then got to celebrate the technical foul that followed.
The game turned into the type of bloodbath that ravenous, KU-loving, Mizzou-loathing fans live for. They got to revel in the Tigers’ misfortunes. The student section got to swoon for mulleted cult hero walk-on Chris Teahan with minutes left in the second half instead of seconds. And they got to explode when super-senior Teahan released a pure 3-pointer to put KU over the century mark.
Agbaji, Bruan and Harris said they never had heard the fieldhouse as loud as it was Saturday.
“You play off of it,” Agbaji said of the impact the mob had on the Jayhawks. “But coach was talking to us, you kind of already have that energy going into the game, even in warmups. So you kind of have to find that happy medium of being composed and having the energy, playing with energy.”
KU’s fans and students don’t have to worry about finding that equilibrium. And both Agbaji and Braun expressed their appreciation for the raucous student section in particular.
Braun said: “Some of those students camped out for a week to watch us play. So they’re passionate. We’ve got to give them something in return. We appreciate that and all that they do for us, so that passion and energy was matched.”
This rivalry is so good that a game that didn’t even count in October of 2017 — an exhibition inside then-Sprint Center, in Kansas City, Mo. — had the vibes of a battle in late February.
Now the games count again. And Kansas, Missouri and college basketball are better for it.
And the KU fan base can once again scratch that notorious black and gold itch.
The healing salve to the Jayhawks’ road aches, pains and sometimes damaged psyches, Allen Fieldhouse will need to inoculate its inhabitants yet again on Monday.
Five times this season, the schedule has sent the Kansas men’s basketball team back to its home court following a road loss. And five times it has been just what the Dr. James Naismith would have ordered.
Turned into roadkill by Texas Tech in Lubbock on Saturday night, the Jayhawks look more wounded now than they have at any point in this season full of mediocre to poor showings on opponents’ home floors.
KU didn’t lead on the scoreboard at any juncture against the Red Raiders. By halftime, the Jayhawks trailed by 25, marking the program’s largest intermission deficit in 18 years. Once the final buzzer sounded on a 91-62 Tech rout, the 29-point beatdown doubled as the largest margin of defeat suffered by KU in Big 12 play since 2000.
It left the Jayhawks (20-7 overall, 9-5 Big 12) in third place in the conference standings, down 2 games to first-place Kansas State (21-6, 11-3), with only four games to go in the regular season.
Of course, the perennial league champs have a shot at cutting the Wildcats’ lead in half on Big Monday (8 p.m. tipoff, ESPN). And clearly, their pattern of following road losses with home wins should put the Jayhawks in a better head space than most teams would be coming off such a potentially catastrophic loss.
The framework for KU recoveries began in December. Kansas lost at Arizona State by 4, and returned to Lawrence to beat Eastern Michigan by 24.
More strenuous turnarounds would follow. After a 17-point loss at Iowa State, KU defeated TCU by 9 in the Feldhouse.
After hitting the pothole that was a 1-point defeat at last-place West Virginia, the Jayhawks recouped with a 4-point home victory over Iowa State.
Following double-digit losses in back-to-back road games — by 18 at Kentucky and 10 at Texas — KU got right with some home cooking in the form of a 16-point win against Texas Tech.
And when the Jayhawks were right back on the road three days later, leaving Manhattan with a 7-point defeat at the hands of rival K-State, they went right back to their winning in Lawrence ways, beating Oklahoma State by 12.
Now 15-0 in Allen Fieldhouse overall this season and 7-0 against Big 12 competition, KU gets a rematch with the Wildcats, who have used a 6-1 road mark in Big 12 games to achieve their spot atop the standings.
K-State couldn’t win at Texas Tech in its first league road game of the season, but Bruce Weber’s bunch has rattled off six straight wins in opposing Big 12 venues since: by 1 at Iowa State, by 13 at Oklahoma, by 18 at Oklahoma State, by 7 at Baylor, by 7 at Texas and by 14 at West Virginia.
There’s a 12-point loss at Texas A&M and a 14-point home loss to Iowa State mixed in there, too, during that stretch, so the Wildcats are far from infallible. But they should be as inspired as ever, knowing a win over KU would all but put an end to the Jayhawks’ 14-year reign as Big 12 champions.
Will that be enough to ruin KU’s always handy home court elixir, though? The Jayhawks have known nothing but success inside Allen Fieldhouse this season, and with the stakes higher than ever, the crazed fans that back them should be ready to provide the juice necessary for a 48-hour recuperation.
KU needs to win out and get some help from teams playing against Texas Tech (22-5, 10-4) and K-State to keep the program’s Big 12 title streak alive. An injection of new life from a home win over K-State is the most crucial step in that playing out.
If Kansas doesn’t find a way to beat West Virginia on Saturday inside Allen Fieldhouse, Cole Aldrich might not know how to react.
Once an ultimate defender of James Naismith Court, Aldrich will be back in Lawrence for the game, and to watch his jersey join those of various other former KU greats in the rafters.
While reflecting on his time with the Jayhawks during a media conference call Thursday, Aldrich spoke of the pride he feels every time he steps foot on KU’s home floor.
“You kind of sit back and you think about all the times and all the games you went through in the fieldhouse. One of the most special things about walking in that building is I never lost at home in three years,” Aldrich shared.
Indeed, the 6-foot-11 center from Bloomington, Minn., was part of KU’s longest home-court winning streak in program history — 69 games — a stretch that began in February of 2007, before his arrival, and concluded in January of 2011, after he left for the NBA.
The Jayhawks went 19-0 inside Allen Fieldhouse during Aldrich’s freshman season, when he was a role player for a national championship team. But KU was just as difficult to beat when the big man took on a starring role as a sophomore (18-0) and a junior (18-0).
Following Aldrich’s final season at Kansas, the program lost just one game (four years) or went unbeaten in the fieldhouse (three years) each of the ensuing seven campaigns.
Then came this season.
With three games remaining on the home schedule, the 2017-18 Jayhawks already have dropped three games in Allen Fieldhouse, the most in Bill Self’s 15 seasons as head coach.
“You kind of look at this year with them losing three at home,” Aldrich said of KU’s 11-3 mark entering Saturday’s matchup with West Virginia (5:15 p.m., ESPN). “Most teams around the country would be happy with losing just three games at home. This year for us it’s kind of a rarity.”
No one, of course, is more keenly aware of that than KU’s current team leader. Kansas senior point guard Devonte’ Graham went close to three seasons before experiencing his first fieldhouse loss, against Iowa State, in February of his junior year.
At times former players such as Aldrich or Sherron Collins, who now lives in town and will watch his jersey go up in the fieldhouse on Monday, come around and offer advice. Graham said those discussions don’t typically involve past greats emphasizing the importance of protecting KU’s home court.
“But we’ve definitely talked about it as a team, how we’ve been losing games at home and it’s just not normal,” Graham said of his discussions within the Kansas locker room. “It’s not normal for the team or the fans that experience it. And we’ve done it way too much this year.”
Self said Thursday he hadn’t at that point laid out any specific plans for former players, including other members of the 2008 national title team, who will be in town this weekend to address his current Jayhawks. But you have to think some “this is our house” type of pep talks are on the way, and just in time. The Jayhawks (20-6 overall, 9-4 Big 12) must defeat WVU, Oklahoma and Texas inside the fieldhouse to put themselves in position to extend the program’s Big 12 title streak to a record 14 seasons.
Finding some gratification in closing out the home schedule in style would be a great step for this KU team, already 6-2 in road games and 3-0 on neutral floors (note: the Sprint Center loss to Washington technically counts as a home game, too).
“You know, you usually don’t lose that many at home — maybe one,” Aldrich said of Allen Fieldhouse. “And every once in a while you’ll have a few years when you don’t lose at all. So going 55-0 at home was really kind of a testament to how good our fans were.”
And how well the Jayhawks defended and rebounded when Aldrich manned the paint.
A few hours before “Celebrating 60 years of Allen Fieldhouse” Monday, Kansas University basketball coaches of past and present gathered to talk hoops and the home of the Jayhawks.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams, former Kansas coach Ted Owens, SMU coach Larry Brown and Kansas coach Bill Self all addressed the media at the fieldhouse to share some of their memories.
Here are a few of the highlights:
• Monday afternoon Williams walked into the fieldhouse for the first time since KU’s last practice before the 2003 Final Four. “It was a nice feeling,” he said. For him, going in the fieldhouse always was a thrill. “I wish nobody else would’ve been in there.” He would’ve liked to take it all in for himself.
• When Williams first heard about this event: “That’s a neat idea,” because it’s such a wonderful location. “It’s the best. It really is.”
• Being here has brought back some wonderful memories. Memories of the hurt feelings of when he left came up, too. “Everybody’s in an arms race” in college athletics top put up new facilities and this place has been around 60 years.
• Williams’ wife, Wanda, has been having some health issues or she would’ve made the trip, too.
• On how he wants to be remembered as a KU coach: “I wish we had won one more game on Monday night on a couple of occasions. But mainly as ”a guy who “could coach a little bit,” but really meant a lot to players.
• Self called him up and has made Williams feel so good, that made coming back easy. They talked during the summer recruiting period and Self first asked him. Williams said, “I’m in.” The Tar Heels loved it because they got a day off Monday.
• “I always worried about coming back,” Williams said, because he always loved the place. He is a Kansas fan. … “When people put your picture over the commode,” that’s a little worrisome.
• Williams turned down UNC once because he wanted to coach Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich for the rest of their careers.
• On his last game at the fieldhouse: He hopes that people in attendance knew/recognized what they had in Collison and Hinrich, and what they did for four years.
• Williams was “blown away” by all the facilities and how everything looks now. “I think it’s just sensational.” … “Kansas basketball deserves the best.”
• There’s never a day goes by that Williams doesn’t know what’s going on at KU from a win-loss perspective.
• Williams remembers a game vs. Oklahoma when he thought there was no way the Sooner at the free-throw line would make his two shots because the crowd wouldn’t let him. The result? “Brick, brick.”
• “Time heals wounds,” Williams said of returning. Over time people understand things better.
• “This is a little different than the training room where we used to meet after the game,” Owens said upon entering the press conference.
• On how he’d like his KU career to be remembered: By the relationship with his players and the productive lives they lived.
• Did Jo Jo White step out of bounds in overtime of a regional semifinal in 1966? Owens was completely across the court when the play happened against Texas Western… the Jayhawks thought they had scored to go to the Final Four. “Today with all the camera angles you have, there would be no question.” It looked like White’s heel was never out of bounds. The official saw where White landed and called it based on that.
• Even though Texas Western is associated with breaking barriers, Owens came to KU in 1960 and the Jayhawks were starting black players at that time.
• Owens remembers former KU coach Dick Harp as the man who gave him an opportunity to coach at this level. He was a personal and professional mentor for Owens.
• What has changed most at Allen since Owens’ time is the floor. The court wasn’t down until the day before they started practice each season back in the day. Before that players worked out at Robinson Gymnasium in the offseason. When they brought in recruits in the offseason, “it was a big old barn.” … Owens, growing up in the Great Depression, learned not to complain about anything. He thinks sometimes as coaches you have to complain or make others realize what you need to be competitive.
• On Bud Stallworth’s 50-point game: A great day, on national TV. To do that against Missouri made it even better. “If he had done that today, he would’ve had 63 points.” There wasn’t a three-point line back then.
• The architects and contractors built a beautiful building. It combines a solid structure with the rock of a high-profile program. It’s a nice combination of the old and new.
• On his first trip to Allen Fieldhouse: It was pretty amazing. He played for Dean Smith and the reason he got to KU was because of the things Smith said. Considering all that came before him and what they meant to the sport, “it was a remarkable feeling” to know he would be part of that at Kansas.
• “My first experience here wasn’t the best.” He was a sophomore at UNC and sat in the second row of the bench. It took him a long time to get down to the floor and it took him so long to get his warmups off that probably ate into the time he was allotted to play.
• Even with all the updates to Allen through the years it is still about the basketball court and the program.
• Brown looks back on his career and he wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for all the coaches he played for and worked for/with.
• Williams and Self are a big part of Brown’s life. Self has allowed him to be a part of KU. Self and Williams are “the very best” at what they do.
• Danny Manning was “the best college player ever” in Brown’s mind. Manning probably could’ve won three national championships if they hadn’t run into so many injury problems. “He probably would’ve won three if he had a better coach.” … Brown is excited for what Manning is going to accomplish at Wake Forest.
• “I’m 74 doing this. I’ve been stealing a long time.” Brown always has enjoyed practice time more than the game and being around players who want to get better. SMU has given him that opportunity and he hopes he can keep doing it.
• Self called Owens and asked Williams in Brown in person — it was “harder to say no” in person. Self wanted to make sure all three of them were there to make it be what it needed to be.
• Self’s favorite games at Allen are: (besides the time he played and scored 12 points as a a freshman for Oklahoma State) the last game against Missouri and the game against Texas in which KU had to come back from a big deficit to win it and win the Big 12. There are lots of great memories, including the game against Oklahoma State when Wayne Simien and the Cowboys all played at a very high level offensively.
• Self saw Kevin Durant a couple years ago, and Durant said one of the coolest things he experienced in college was the ovation the fieldhouse crowd gave him (then a Texas star) when he returned to the floor after getting injured.
• The building ties into the love of the place and how players are treated and that makes it a way of life. That’s what makes it difficult to ever want to leave. The way the people treat you here was more of a pull to keep him here (when Oklahoma State was in the market for a head coach).
• On being here with Williams and Brown: “We’re not trying to get each other’s recruits,” and they don’t have to scout against each other tonight, which will make it a lot of fun.
• This is a very unique night for the fans to re-live some great memories with four coaches who have spanned 51 years of the program’s history.
• Allen Fieldhouse has taken “a treasure” and added amenities to make it very modern. The gameday atmosphere is unique. Self hasn’t been to Cameron Indoor or The Palestra but it would be very difficult for any building to rival this one by the time they get Naismith’s rules and the DeBruce Center set up.
• Self hopes Brown will retire before he does. Brown is a basketball genius and “has forgotten more ball than I’ll ever know.” Self can’t see doing it this as long as Brown has, but hopes to do it quite a while longer.
• The idea for the 60 years celebration came about as a way to raise money for charity and all the coaches’ charities of choice will benefit from this. KU sold 52 tables for the event in a day and a half.
• Going back to 2003 to 2007, the building needed a pick-me-up or boost and they were able to do that. Now KU can bring a kid in on a non-basketball game day and still blow him away with the facilities. It’s a very attractive place, even when it’s not full.
• Brown doesn’t remember times when he was mean; he only remembers being nice. When Self’s Tulsa team beat Cincinnati in the NCAAs, Brown called him up and said he had to do one thing for him: Brown wanted him not to frown or have bad body language or say anything negative. Great advice: take the pressure off the kids and let them enjoy this.