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.
Prepare yourself for even more snarls and swagger from Kansas junior Christian Braun. He won’t be able to hold back. Not with that black and gold he knows all too well in his line of sight.
To say that Saturday’s Border Showdown revival means more to Braun than most current players on either side of the college basketball state line is an understatement. While the 6-foot-7 guard from Burlington, like all of his KU teammates, has never faced the Jayhawks’ old conference rivals, Braun has spent most of the 20 years of his life embedded in the rivalry.
Braun is the rare KU player who might actually look at Missouri with the same disdain as many of the Jayhawks’ crazed fans. So much so that Braun’s passion for the rivalry couldn’t be concealed when he spoke with reporters on Thursday.
“I’m proud to wear Kansas, and I’m going to be proud to get this win on Saturday,” Braun said.
Already playing the best basketball of his career (16.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, 62.8% shooting), and doing so while successfully toeing the line between confidence and cockiness, that brazen approach will only intensify against the Tigers. And he has his family to thank for that.
His mother, Lisa, was a three-time All-Big Eight basketball player at Missouri. His uncle, Mike Sandbothe, played basketball for Mizzou. So did his aunt, Lori Sandbothe.
“They don’t really let me stop hearing about it, to be honest. My uncle Mike talks about himself all day,” a grinning Braun reported.
So when Braun says this particular game means “a lot” to him, he’s not overselling it.
He ended up on the crimson and blue side of the rivalry thanks to his dad, Donny, a former KU walk-on who would eventually transfer to Saint Louis.
“Me and my dad were always kind of on the other side. But I always tell people, I was always on the winning side,” Braun said. “So it feels good to be a winner. That’s why I chose here. I never really looked over in Mizzou’s direction, even though my brother was there.”
That’s right. Even his brother, Parker, wanted to play at Mizzou. At least for a few years. Parker, who was a walk-on with the Tigers, this past offseason transferred to Santa Clara. But Braun doesn’t think playing against his brother this year would have made the rivalry game more fun. He said he’s happy for Parker, now a starter with the Broncos, instead of a backup with the Tigers.
Braun said his brother learned a lot from Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin, and credited Martin with helping Parker grow as a person.
And then Braun’s inner Jayhawk got the best of him.
“They’re playing really good basketball over there (at Santa Clara), and that’s something (Parker) hasn’t seen,” a smirking Braun added, not missing an opportunity to take a jab at the Tigers. (Santa Clara is 7-3, and during the three years — one as a redshirt — Parker was at Mizzou, the Tigers were 15-17, 15-16 and 16-10.
Braun was asked if Parker will be cheering for his KU-loving brother in the rivalry game.
“Oh, absolutely,” he responded, almost appalled by the question.
In fact, Braun said all of his aunts and uncles and family members will be on his side of the border rivalry for this matchup.
“There’s no question. They’re all Kansas fans now that I’m here.”
He then suppressed a laugh, while adding: “We kind of give them something to cheer for.”
Though the KU-Mizzou rivalry disappeared for nine years for some, it didn’t for Braun.
“It never really died to me,” he said.