Tuesday, Kansas won its 63rd straight home game, a school record. But I'm not one of the lucky ones who lives nearby and has season tickets so when I do go to Lawrence for a game I appreciate the experience even more. It's special each and every time. I've witnessed some extraordinary games on James Naismith Court during Bill Self's tenure at KU, and on Thanksgiving why not express gratitude for what I've seen in the country's best college basketball arena, Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
January 25, 2004 – Colorado
My first game ever didn't exactly feature an opponent that posed the
toughest test for Kansas. It was an afternoon tilt that KU just simply
dominated, 78-57 and the outcome was really never in question. The
Buffaloes big man David Harrison, the object of "affection" of the KU
crowd, spent a huge chunk of this one on the bench and the fans and
Wayne Simien had a field day (20 pts, 15 rebounds).
But this trip was all about immersing myself in the Kansas experience
for the first time ever. As a lifelong college basketball fan you want
to experience all the great arenas but this one oozes history every
where you walk. You study the first drive up Naismith Drive, and the
first ticket stub. You try to capture as many moments as possible by
taking pictures outside of the fieldhouse with the statue of Phog
Allen, or the historical KU basketball timeline mural in the basketball
offices painted on the wall. There was so much to embellish and that
included meeting Danny Manning for the first time in person.
The postgame dinner was at Henry T's with coach Self, his wife Cindy,
then assistant Norm Roberts and his wife, plus former scout.com
national recruiting coordinator Dave Telep. Great conversation around
good friends and my first experience at Kansas led to the thinking I
never wanted to miss a yearly visit.
January 29, 2005 - Texas
A couple times I've visited Lawrence and got lucky with a home game
Saturday and another on Monday featured on ESPN's Big Monday. This year
it was a double-dip I couldn't resist. Texas – which was continuing to
evolve into a big-time rivalry with KU – and then the biggest game of
the year on fans of both school's calendars – Kansas Missouri on Big
This game was just shortly after the Jayhawks suffered a horrific loss
against Villanova in Philadelphia, but they bounced back in a big way.
As a result the Longhorns got blown out of the gym by the one-loss
Jayhawks, 90-65. This was my first "wow this place is really loud"
experience. Kansas handed Rick Barnes his worst Big 12 loss ever and KU
was led by Keith Langford and Aaron Miles. The crowd thrived with every
turnover, and there were 20 by the Longhorns, and Wayne Simien put up
27. I was totally in awe of the atmosphere and the crowd.
January 31, 2005 – Missouri
Fast forward two days later when it was time for my first Border War
experience. This rivalry really takes it up a level – for the players
and the crowd and it doesn't take long to figure it out. You can't
explain it but you just feel it. I learned real quick that a lot of the
creatively designed tees around town feature clever phrases or
caricatures that involve Mizzou and the dislike for the Tigers runs
Kansas kept the momentum rolling from Saturday night's big win against
Texas, well eventually anyways. My first face-to-face dealing with a
halftime deficit as the hometown Jayhawks were down eight. But the
second half and a critical tactical switch to a zone by Self swung the
pendulum in favor of KU.
I remember a couple of lob passes by Aaron Miles finished by Christian Moody and J.R. Giddens keying a run that silenced Missouri for the
night. The chatter before and after this contest centered on the Quinn
Snyder controversy with rumors swirling and a firing appearing imminent
it certainly added extra juice to the matchup. After all Snyder beat
Self out for the Mizzou job but Self sent Snyder to his seventh loss in
eighth games in this one, 73-61.
February 5, 2006 – Oklahoma
A Sunday CBS game and wow, is the word I'll use to describe this game
for a long, long time. It was a pivotal Big 12 tilt and KU had been
less than stellar against Kelvin Sampson's Sooners.
Kansas on its own court looked AWFUL for a stretch in this one down as
many as 16-points in the second half. But it allowed me to witness one
of the greatest rallies I've certainly seen during the Self era though
an even more impressive one would come a couple years later.
It was a 16-4 run early in the second half that knocked KU back on its
heels. But Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers had answers even as
freshmen. Rush made a couple of threes in 17-3 run turning the tables
as KU won a low scoring, defensive affair, 59-58. I think Rush had KU's
ONLY threes on the day in this one. The Jayhawks were less than stellar
from long distance in this one.
In a defensive game other than Rush's threes there were a couple of
Julian Wright highlight reel dunks to be admired in this. It was one of
three games where it was literally so loud it left your ears ringing
March 3, 2007 - Texas
This one had it all - an incredible individual performance by Kevin Durant who it appeared at one point might go for 50 in this one, and
another emotional KU rally for a Big 12 title.
This one was for all the regular season marbles for KU. Durant simply
could not be stopped scoring 25 in the first half no matter how many
different looks, double teams, and defenders Self threw at the
incredible talent. One of the best individual displays I've ever
witnessed in person. It was an unprecedented offensive performance by
Durant and his teammates who at one point made 12 shots in a row. It
was A.J. Abrams and D.J. Augustin who also helped lead the Longhorns to
a 51-35 bulge.
But in the second half near the midway mark Durant went down with an
ankle injury. As much as you wanted a Kansas victory you knew that
Durant was doing something so special and no one wanted to see him
injured. But from that point on the Longhorns were not the same, and
neither was Durant who finished with 32 hard-earned points. A huge 24-7
KU run with a rowdy crowd behind it keyed another incredible comeback.
By the time he returned UT was down. But the victory wasn't secured
until Julian Wright's long arm blocked a D.J. Augustin three attempt to
tie with five seconds left and KU held off Texas, 89-86. Celebration
after ensued and being in the KU locker room area after the game
getting to watch the guys celebrate Big 12 Championship was pretty
March 1, 2008 – Kansas State
An 88-74 win and my first game watching Kansas take on in-state rival
Kansas State. Two years in a row seeing a couple of college
basketball's best players in Durant and now Michael Beasley, and
Much-like Durant the year prior Beasley simply could not be stopped no
matter what defense Self threw at him. Beasley torched KU for 39
points, 11 rebounds but any coach would gladly give up the individual
total for a team win and that's what KU did, eventually. Durant was
slowed by and injury in 2007, it was early foul trouble that caused
Beasley to struggle out of the gate. But when he returned everyone
witnessed yet another superman effort in the fieldhouse.
KU had lost earlier in the season to the Wildcat and the Jayhawks
wanted revenge. This was another game where the decibel level from the
crowd totally raised KU's level of play. This 88-74 win set up the
chance to clinch another Big 12 title two days later. The 11-0
run at the beginning of the second half was another spurt that brought
the house down. The crowd noise grew as the KU lead did. K State was
face down on the mat and never did get up before the count – it was
Kansas with the TKO.
March 3, 2008 – Texas Tech
Kansas appeared to really be hitting its stride. Fans were salivating
at the postseason championship possibilities, and this one was a
blowout like no other.
Kansas had beat down Texas Tech less than a week prior and then topped
a 44-point win with a 58-point win (109-51). The Red Raiders never had
a prayer in this. It was basically a 40-minute beat down and a
celebration for the seniors. On a night where there were six seniors on
the KU rosters Self didn't have to worry about everyone getting minutes
because of a tight game.
Really the back-to-back games showed me this team had the tools to go
all the way. Sherron Collins looked to be healthy and rounding into
form which at that point Self had told me was key for a title run,
Brandon Rush was shooting it well again, and Mario Chalmers continued
his solid play.
A Saturday-Monday double-header was a great call in what turned out to
be Self's most special season at the helm.
March 7, 2009 - Texas
Some things never get old. For me it's going to KU games and for the
Jayhawks its winning Big 12 titles. I opted early in the year to go to
this game feeling like it would yet again be for a conference title. A
share of the title was locked up on Wednesday but this was for outright
honors. It was my third time seeing Texas and the matchup never
It should've been and could've been a massive rebuilding year but
instead KU found itself staring at another championship, but this one
was highly unlikely according to some.
On the heels of a shaky performance vs. Texas Tech a few days earlier,
Kansas saw itself again got down early after a poor stretch in the
first half. With the Jayhawks trailing by 14 they knew locking up A.J.
Abrams was key – mission accomplished. Damion James had the tights and
cape in this one putting up 26 points and leading another Kansas-Texas
KU trailed by seven at the half and then took the lead back with nine
minutes to go methodically slicing away what was a double-digit lead
for Rick Barnes' Longhorns and going on to win 83-73.
It was a sweet win for the team and the coach and attending yet another
conference title celebration after sure was fun and this was win number
41 of the current home win streak.
March 3, 2010 – KU beats Kansas State
It ended up being a blowout, at least on paper, but it was a night to
remember. It was the evening a heated in-state rival went down and the
night a sellout crowd of 16,300 wrapped its arms around fan favorite
Sherron Collins embracing him for four great years. Number four scored
17 points and provided a tearful senior night speech flanked on either
side by all the championship trophies he'd been a part of during a
stellar career at KU.
The days leading up to the game will stick with me as much as the game
itself. Watching Collins interact with his teammates and coaches prior
to the critical Big 12 contest was so neat. He reminded us all what
college athletics should be about. A young, brash, cocky, high school
kid comes to campus with the idea that this was just a short stop on
the road to the next level. For Collins it turned into so much more.
Championships, friends he now calls family, coaches he calls second
fathers, and a diploma. Sherron grew up right in front of our eyes and
seeing him and hearing him talk about assistant coach Kurtis Townsend,
Self, Cole Aldrich, and Brady Morningstar brought a smile to everyone's
face. Collins was determined to embrace the experience and soak it all
in, and he did from start to finish.
The moral of the story if you're a Kansas fan and you haven't
been there – get there. If you go all the time – sit back – enjoy – and
take the time to reflect on how very special attending games at this
hallowed arena is.
Home Sweet Home
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