I didn’t want this to turn into a cheesy, “this-is-why-we’re-fans” piece. But it probably will.
Once a year, the Kansas basketball team has a stretch that encompasses all we love and all we love to hate about college sports. For KU basketball, I think this week is it this season.
We sat and watched the übertalented Jayhawks fritter away an 11-point lead and lose 69-66 to emergent Big XII power and then #8-ranked Texas A&M Saturday night. All in front of Jay Bilas, for crying out loud!
Then, Bob Huggins brought his red-hot Kansas State Wildcats into Allen Field House Wednesday night. KSU fans, giddy in the rarified air of a tie for second-place in the Big XII with KU, vowed that they’d make it two in a row in The Phog. Instead, they were treated to KU’s most complete game of the season and came out on the short end of a 97-70 rout.
Now, Kansas turns its attention to archrival Missouri (14-8, 3-6 Big XII) and the Border War, Round One, at the Paige Sports Arena this Saturday afternoon.
Much like Kansas State, the Tigers are revamped and much-improved under a first-year coach. Mike Anderson has Missouri playing harder and, usually, smarter than they have in years.
And much like Kansas State, they’re undergunned and outmanned against the #9-ranked Jayhawks. But you know the Tigers will play their best game of the season. They always do. That’s how it works: a Tiger squad that blew a 16-point lead in a 66-65 loss to Iowa State earlier in the year and recently lost at home, 66-61, to bottom-feeder Nebraska will give Kansas all it wants Saturday. It already has once this season, losing 80-77 in a Big Monday game at Allen Field House three weeks ago.
These are the weeks that condense our emotions into short time frames that just can’t be healthy. As disappointed as a KU fan was Saturday night, you were just as excited to slap Kansas State around – especially after they had the nerve to think they were actually going to compete. The nerve, huh?
This Saturday’s Border War game against the hated black-and-gold is the perfect cap to these eight days of basketball. Two teams that really don’t like each other will throw roundhouse punch after roundhouse punch, trying to release the other from its senses in a 40-minute, bare-knuckle brawl played in a beautiful new gym that’s full once a year – when Kansas comes to town.
It’s weeks like this that make it fun to be a fan. Even the bellydrop of Saturday’s A&M loss was fun, admit it. At least a little bit.
Following the Jayhawks sometimes reminds us we’re alive. It takes us away from real life for awhile. We can forget about classes, forget about work. Sports puts a two- or three-hour moratorium on reality when we can revel in the kind of utter joy and total frustration and absolute gloom that only college sports can bring – emotions that come quickly, hit hard and last just a few minutes, because as frustrated as you are with missed free throws one second, your throwing popcorn all over the living room over a made three-point buzzer-beater the next.
Damn. Now I’m verklempt.
Suffice to say that I had to sit back for a bit Thursday morning and realize that being a Kansas fan isn’t such a bad thing to be. Exciting, yes. Maddening, sometimes. But as much as we think we’d like it to be, it’s never dull. And I’d like to keep it that way.
It’s been a loaded week already, and Missouri and Ricky Clemons and the Antlers and Sit Down Norm and Col. Quantrill are waiting in Columbia.
Here’s to making it two out of three. Rock chalk, Jayhawk!