LAWRENCE, Kan. – It was a game worthy of “instant classic” status.
On The Longhorn Network, of course.
It was a scene that will be remembered long after what Texas’ 74-63 win over Kansas meant in the standings or rankings. For the first time in almost four years – 70 home games – they filed out of Allen Fieldhouse silent. No “Rooock Chaaalk, Jaaaayhaaawk” chant drifting down from the rafters after another Kansas victory.
Well, there wasn’t complete silence. A group of giddy Texas fans were sitting behind us in Section 10 whooping it up as their team’s win became apparent. You could practically see the steam rising off the heads of KU fans barely able to hold their tongues.
One Kansas fan on his way out early turned to the dancing, prancing Texas contingent and yelled, “How about doing it with some class?” Never mind that both sides’ fans – KU in basketball, Texas in football – have been known for their obnoxiousness at times.
It wasn’t about that, though, Saturday afternoon as we sat up behind one basket at historic Allen. It was a father-son outing. Jack had only been to one Kansas game in his life. We both watched the Ohio State-Illinois game earlier in the day knowing that if Illinois had won we might be watching KU play for the No. 1 ranking.
Me? I’m a dad who had a Saturday off to watch hoops with his son. Jack is a fan of the Jayhawks, as are most 14-year-olds who grow up 30 miles away in the Kansas City suburb of Johnson County, Kan. It’s like a worker at a Ford plant. He and his family tend to buy and drive Fords. It’s a loyalty thing. You become attached.
Jack is just learning what it means to be loyal. He jumped up and down with the students trying to distract a Longhorn free-throw shooter. He busily texted his friends, telling them where he was and what he was seeing. He met a friend sitting behind the Texas bench at halftime.
We have two “pro” franchises in the Kansas City area – the Chiefs and the Jayhawks. It’s a great sports town, a better college basketball town and on occasion – like 25 years ago – a baseball town. But the Chiefs and Hawks are talking points everywhere.
The talking points changed Saturday afternoon. Kansas didn’t lose the game because of the death of forward Thomas Robinson’s mother Friday night. That would be diminishing Texas’ coming-of-age effort that might have defined it as the new Big 12 favorite. More to the point, Kansas and Robinson somehow played through the tragedy for an afternoon.
The Jayhawks were good enough to go up 18-3 early. They led by 12 points at halftime and still had a double-digit lead in the second half. If anything, Kansas was inspired by their teammate deciding to play hours after his mother had passed. Robinson, a sophomore, recently lost two grandparents – his mother’s parents – in the last three weeks. It fell to Robinson’s sisters, 9-year-old Jayla, to deliver the news to her brother by phone Friday night.
Teammates and their mothers stayed up with Robinson through the early morning hours of Saturday morning trying to console him.
“It was the saddest thing I’d ever seen in my life,” KU coach Bill Self told reporters.
Jack and I found out while making the pregame rounds to see friends on press row. KU play-by-play legend Bob Davis told us. Apparently, 37-year-old Lisa Robinson died of a heart attack in Washington, D.C. When a moment of silence was observed before the game, obviously many fans were surprised. There were a couple of audible gasps.
Robinson is a backup, a brawny 19-year-old who averages eight points and six rebounds per game. On this day he contributed two points, five rebounds and four fouls in eight minutes. As Texas made a stunning second-half comeback, it became less about Kansas’ 69-game home winning streak and more about rallying around Robinson.
In the postgame, teammates praised his desire to play. Texas coach Rick Barnes started his postgame presser by issuing condolences. Kansas may play better than it did in those opening few minutes but it will never play worse this season when Texas outscored it 51-28 in the second half.
Again, it’s too easy to call the Jayhawks distracted. Texas has a physical front line that showed how to beat KU for the first time this season: Body up the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus and shoot 64 percent in the second half.
That combination doesn’t happen every day against Kansas. It may not happen again this season. Maybe the Jayhawks were just … drained – emotionally, physically. There is a lot of healing still left. KU plays Colorado on Tuesday night. It’s not certain if Robinson will be there. There will be a funeral. Many, many more tears.
Whatever happens, Kansas is still a top-five team. It is also a changed team. Texas deserves our praise. Kansas deserves our sympathy.
It did everything right this weekend except win a basketball game. I’m hoping that’s what Jack remembers Saturday. He saw history – the end of that home streak – but he also saw loyalty and humanity.
Those elements were part of an instant classic that should last a lifetime.