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Nothing beats KU-Mizzou Border War rivalry, except realignment

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider
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LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Kansas had just put the finishing touches on a historic 19-point comeback victory against Missouri that neatly wrapped up Bill Self's improbable eighth consecutive Big 12 regular-season title. It was a win that appeared to literally shake the confines of historic Allen Fieldhouse late in the game, one that also appears to have marked the Border War regular-season finale between these two bitter rivals.

"It's definitely going to end," Self said after the highly emotional 87-86 overtime victory. "It's just not the same playing them once a year."

Maybe not, but it's still damn good.

I've attended numerous Duke-North Carolina games, been to Rupp for Kentucky and Louisville and was at plenty of UCLA-Arizona matchups in their heyday. I've been to no shortage of New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox games.

This is right there. With all of them.

"Why wouldn't you want to keep it going," Missouri athletic director Mike Alden told me shortly after watching his team squander what seemed like an insurmountable lead. "There's no reason."

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"You're taking it away from the fans," he added.

Self can't say it publicly, but the reason is because it just doesn't benefit the Kansas Jayhawks.

Now that Missouri is headed to the SEC next year, Kansas doesn't have to play the Tigers any longer. Obviously, Missouri wants to keep the series -- one that began way back in 1907 when James Naismith first took KU into Columbia -- going because wins against one of the most storied basketball programs will help with credibility and, more importantly, in recruiting.

Kansas gains virtually nothing by keeping it going -- except that it's great for college basketball and each fan base. That should be enough, but it's not.

"Not one Kansas fan has written, called or e-mailed me about us stopping the series," Self said.

But that was before the 16,300 packed in Allen Fieldhouse and the millions watching on CBS were treated to one of the most heated rivalries in college hoops and arguably the most exciting regular-season game of the 2011-12 campaign. The hype and the atmosphere for this one was off the charts as both teams entered the game ranked in the top five in the country.

With Jayhawks star Thomas Robinson in foul trouble and fellow big man Jeff Withey battling an ankle injury, Missouri went into halftime with a 44-32 advantage. The lead grew to 19 three minutes into the second half and a once-deafening crowd went eerily quiet.

The Streak appeared in serious jeopardy. The team that had won 90 of the past 91 games in this building looked more than just vulnerable.

However, the Jayhawks -- playing for revenge, bragging rights, the Big 12 crown and also perhaps a top seed in next month's NCAA tournament, climbed back into the game. Robinson tied the score on a three-point play with 16.1 seconds left and then sent the game to overtime with a vicious block (that could have been called a foul) with a couple of seconds left in regulation. Missouri star Marcus Denmon, who rescued the Tigers in Columbia a few weeks back, made a couple of huge shots in the extra session -- including a baseline runner with 12 seconds left that gave Missouri a 86-85 lead.

Senior Tyshawn Taylor, a guy who has been maligned throughout his four years in Lawrence, raced down the court and got a call sending him to the free-throw line with 8.3 seconds left. In a similar situation on Feb. 4, Taylor missed a pair with 42 seconds left that would have given Kansas the lead. This time Taylor drained both to give the Jayhawks the win and at least a share of the Big 12 title. Kansas will need a win either at Oklahoma State or at home against Texas to claim the outright crown.

"It's unbelievable," Self said.

No one picked Kansas to win the league this year. Baylor boasts far more talent and the Tigers had a blend of guard play and experience that also gave them the edge over Self's painfully thin group. Kansas' top two reserves are former walk-ons -- and one of them, Conner Teahan, played 37 minutes in Saturday's victory.

"I didn't want to be the one who ended the streak," said a smiling Robinson following the win.

Robinson's block. Taylor's free throws. Self pumping his fist and yelling while walking off the court. If this was it, after 105 years of going toe-to-toe, the Border War sure went out in style. Game No. 267 will go down in history.

Not just as one of the best, but maybe as the last.

"The next coach may play [Missouri]," Self said. "The next president, the next A.D. may force me to play."

But for now, it's history.

"For people to end it over a dollar sign makes no sense," Robinson said. "Tradition and rivalries are priceless."

But this one had its price.

It's called conference realignment.

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