Home Sweet Home

Phog Allen has been a dominant home court. On Thanksgiving I take time to give thanks to my Fieldhouse memories.

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 Monday.

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 deep.

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 after. 

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 cool.

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 neither disappointed.

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 disappoints.

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 offensively display.

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.

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