The preseason rankings — Kansas 13th and Missouri 25th — meant the Border War games for 2011-12 college men’s basketball season held great promise. Then a series of events before their first game pushed the emotion in the bitter rivalry off the charts..
Before the season Mizzou announced it was leaving for the SEC. Kansas officials didn’t say it at the time, but as the weeks passed it became clear the Jayhawks would want nothing to do with their oldest rival. No more KU vs. MU basketball and football games after the Tigers’ final season in the Big 12.
Time heals wounds. The Border War is back with a Dec. 11 game in Lawrence, the first of a six-year men’s basketball series with other games in Columbia and Kansas City. Even football is resuming, in 2025.
The ice has thawed. No more Border (cold) War. Now, if the schools could deliver like they did a decade ago, time capsule games defined by excellent play, remarkable comebacks and victory fist pumping by both coaches....
Players and coaches interviewed by The Kansas City Star vividly recalled games of Feb. 4, 2012, a 74-71 Missouri victory in Columbia, with the Tigers overcoming an eight-point deficit in the final two minutes; and Feb. 25 in Lawrence, where KU came back from 19 down in the second half to prevail 87-86 in overtime.
“Both of those games, warming up it felt like an NBA Finals game, or what I imagined an NBA Finals game would feel like,” said Kim English, a senior guard for Missouri and how the head coach at George Mason.
The outcomes left Kansas and Missouri exhilarated, crushed, exhausted and gave college basketball its greatest spectacles of the season.
“Really the wrong team won both days,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We should have won at Missouri and they probably should have beaten us at our place.”
Kansas lost four starters from a 35-victory team in 2011 but in typical Jayhawks fashion simply reloaded. Big man Thomas Robinson was the center piece who turned in a unanimous All-America season. Senior Tyshawn Taylor was the team leader, Jeff Withey the shot blocking specialist, Travis Releford the lock down defender and deep threats Elijah Johnson and Conner Teahan.
An early season loss to Davidson in Kansas City got the Jayhawks’ attention and they won 11 of the next 12 heading into a showdown with the Tigers.
Missouri was more of a question mark with Frank Haith was in his first season, hired from the University of Miami to replace Mike Anderson. Haith made a lineup decision that proved critical to the team’s success. With big man Laurence Bowers suffering a torn ACL in the preseason shooting guard Kim English would start in the frontcourt and Michael Dixon, who started 17 games the previous season, would come off the bench.
Haith: The two guys that had to buy in were Kimmie and Mike Dixon. Kimmie had the buy into playing the forward position when his whole career he thought he was going to be an NBA two guard. That’s what he was. Defense was the biggest adjustment for him having to guard a guy like a Thomas Robinson or Jeff Withey.
And Mike Dixon coming off the bench, because I felt like you wanted to have good balance and rotations. That team, once we got into a rhythm we all knew the system and how we were going to play, there was never a game where they figured oh well I’m not gonna play as much or this, it was all predicated on rotation and timing of the game. And Mike’s buy in was tremendous because he had a unbelievable year too.
I felt we were all about spacing, and as simple as this sounds, but all those guys could dribble, pass and shoot. And when you have a team like that, you become a team that’s very difficult to defend, which we were. We were very difficult to defend.
Self: That team was one of the hardest teams to guard because you talk about playing (against) four guards.
Everything clicked for the Tigers, who rolled through 13 nonconference games. In the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Mizzou defeated Notre Dame and No. 20 California by a combined 58 points. The Tigers had climbed to No. 9 when they defeated Illinois in the Braggin’ Rights Game and in January were ranked as high as No. 2.
The first regular season meeting with Kansas approached, and the conference race was shaping up a battle among Kansas, Missouri and Baylor, a team that would have five players from its 2012 roster player in the NBA.
But on Feb. 4, nothing else mattered but MU-KU at Mizzou Arena, and these teams knew each other well.
Self: There were so many players on both sides who had been there three or four years. Marcus Denmon to Michael Dixon to Steve Moore to Kimmie English, Ricardo Ratliffe, Matt Pressey. And my team was old too. Tyshawn had been there four years. Travis had been four years. T-Rob three years and Connor five years.
Not to mention the Kansas City connections. The Tigers had four players who went to area high schools: Denmon (Hogan Prep), Dixon (Lee’s Summit West), Steve Moore (Truman) and Jarrett Sutton (Oak Park). The Jayhawks had two, Releford (Bishop Miege) and Teahan (Rockhurst).
Feb. 4, 2012, Kansas at Missouri
For the 8 p.m. tip off, the first students were in the building at 7:52 a.m. About 5,000 students were revved when ESPN’s College Game Day preview show with Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Hubert Davis and Digger Phelps started at 9 a.m.
Denmon: I remember vividly...seeing students camping out the night before. It made you feel how important this game was. The magnitude of the game makes like you don’t forget.
Haith had previously served as an assistant coach at Texas and Texas A&M, so he knew the Big 12. He soon got up to speed on the Border War. An equipment manager brought him a copy of the movie, “The Outlaw Josey Wales,”
Grandma Sarah (The Outlaw Josey Wales) Anything from Missouri has a taint about it... Never heard of nice things from Missouri coming West... We’re from Kansas — Jayhawkers — and proud of it.
Kansas assistant coach Barry Hinson heard the boos as the the Jayhawks came out for early warmups.
Hinson: “Back when the Mizzou student section was packed on both ends for the (early) NBA warmup. It was just unbelievable. Tyshawn’s mother walks in, down the middle section with Tyshawn’s jersey on. We just heard this booing. We couldn’t figure out what was going on. It was Tyshawn’s mom coming down with his jersey on.
Kansas, 18-4 and leading the Big 12 at 8-1, was ranked eighth. Mizzou, 20-2 and 7-2, was ranked fourth. This was the first Border War between top 10 foes since 1990, and animosity ran high among fans. Players didn’t share the feeling.
Tyshawn Taylor remembers Michael Dixon spending time the previous summer hanging with Kansas players with fellow former Kansas City high school standouts Travis and Trevor Releford.
Taylor: We respected to those guys. It’s a school rivalry but it was never like a real rivalry with the players. To this day, I play with those guys. I see Marcus Denmon, Mike Dixon, Isaiah Taylor, I’ve worked out with Phil Pressey in Dallas a couple of times. It’s all respect...Absolutely we talk about those (2012) games.
Missouri led 39-34 at halftime but Kansas made a furious run in the second half and opened an eight-point lead with 3:25 remaining. Robinson was especially tough, scoring 19 of his 25 after the break. He also was involved in a pivotal moment. The KU lead was 71-66 when Robinson attempted to get around Steve Moore with a spin move.
Robinson dropped in a basket left-handed but Moore held his ground and got the charge call. ESPN analyst Dick Vitale didn’t agree.
Vitale (on the broadcast): “That’s one of those real questionable calls. What a great drop step; I don’t know where you see an offensive foul there. That’s a bad bad call. That’s a bad call.”
Teahan: He totally flopped and that was a huge call.
Self: A call that didn’t go our way, but one thing about Steve Moore. He was the best charge taker for a big guy in our league.
The comeback had started and it centered around one player, Marcus Denmon. He was on his way to a big night with 20 points through the final media timeout. Denmon made a suggestion. Emphatically.
Haith: He says, ‘I have (Conner) Teahan guarding me. He can’t guard me.’
Teahan and Denmon played against each other before college, and both were excellent shooters. Teahan had made both of his three-point attempts in the game, but down the stretch, it was all Denmon. He came off a screen to make a tough three to cut the Mizzou deficit to 71-69 with 1:30 remaining, and after Taylor lost control of the dribble for a turnover, Denmon buried a corner three over a late-arriving Teahan for the lead.
Teahan: Obviously that didn’t work out so well for me in those last however many minutes but I know they had such a unique offense with those four guards.
Taylor: He was going crazy on us.
Denmon: I always say this with respect and being humble, but I didn’t feel like somebody could guard me. I didn’t feel like any of their players could guard me...And I actually know Teahan, we’re actually cool. We played together in AAU ball and he’s from my area and I know him, I knew that he couldn’t guard me.
Now trailing, Kansas got the ball to Taylor, the team’s second scoring option behind Robinson. Taylor went to the basket and was fouled by Dixon with 41.3 seconds remaining. A 68% free throw shooter, Taylor missed them both off the back iron. But Phil Pressey missed a front end 22.7 seconds to play.
Taylor once again looked for the big bucket and drove the lane. Dixon took the charge, then the 91% free throw shooter made two with 9.8 seconds remaining for a 74-71 lead.
With a final possession, Kansas looked to run its dribble handoff play “chop,” with Taylor giving it up to Elijah Johnson. For a the briefest of moments, Johnson had a look from the top of the key. But he hesitated and pulled it back before launching an off balanced attempt that landed wide of the rim.
Missouri 74, Kansas 71. The Tigers had their first victory over Kansas since 2009, when Zaire Taylor’s short jumper bounced in with 2 seconds remaining for a 62-60 victory. English, Denmon, Moore, Bowers and Sutton were freshmen on that team and remembered the student section spilling out to the floor.
The Tigers didn’t want that to happen after this Kansas victory.
Haith: Kimmie wanted to fans not to rush the court because his thing was we expected to win. We don’t want to treat beating Kansas as if it was a monumental thing we couldn’t do.
Missouri students cheered a glorious comeback triumph from their seats. Three weeks later, Mizzou looked for the regular season sweep of Kansas.
Feb. 25, 2012 Missouri at Kansas
After the Missouri loss, Kansas won its next five, jumped to fourth in the AP poll and 13-2 in the Big 12. A victory would clinch at least a share of the Big 12 title. The third-ranked Tigers entered the game coming off a loss to Kansas State and stood 12-3.
The 267th meeting carried even more meaning as the last scheduled game between the bitter rivals, a series that began in 1907. The game was played on a Saturday. Students had started camping out for choice Allen Fieldhouse seats the previous Sunday.
Self: We were playing for a league championship, but that wasn’t it. The fact that it was the last Missouri game, and there was more pressure in the last Missouri game than in the second to last Missouri game. There wasn’t another one (scheduled) after this. We had so many ex-players that came back and were sitting behind the bench. Raef LaFrentz, I remember specifically. He doesn’t get back much. And him saying, I don’t want to miss this one.
I felt the pressure and I felt the kids feeling the pressure, and there’s really nothing you can do.
Denmon remembered the Tigers brought confidence to Lawrence and were well prepared for one of college basketball’s most raucous environments.
Denmon: It’s something they do with the microphone and the speakers, they’re like next to each other. So everything that’s coming out the speaker is going back in the microphone, it’s like super loud right behind the bench. So we had prepared, we had like loud crowds playing over the speaker inside of our practices and we had signs to where we knew we wouldn’t be able to hear each other because it’s that loud in there, especially on the bench. So we were all prepared.
Get through the first few minutes and Mizzou believed it would be OK.
English: Honestly, I’ve coached at Kentucky, I’ve coached at UCLA, there’s no venue in the world like Phog Allen Fieldhouse. And their fans are experts at giving their team energy and their fans encouraged their team to try to blow you out the first five minutes of the game. And you have to be really tough enough to withstand that run.
It was the Tigers who packed the punch from the outset, leading 44-32 at halftime, the Jayhawks’ largest halftime deficit that season. The Missouri lead grew to 19 with 16:24 remaining.
English: I remember how quiet it was
Hinson: They couldn’t miss
Finally, the Kansas defense started to kick in. Missouri went seven minutes without a field goal and Robinson’s basket with 2:28 remaining narrowed the Missouri lead to 71-70.
Clark Kellogg (CBS color analyst): Missouri looked like they were going to run away with it, had everything rolling in a tough environment against a great opponent on the road, doing what they do — turnovers, transition, threes, driving it — and then all of a sudden, the Phog rose up. The Phog said, ‘Not Today.’ Thomas Robinson got going Tyshawn got going and man, that place was electric.
Taylor: We were playing on pure adrenaline, playing off pure will and fight.
With 16.1 seconds remaining in regulation, Elijah Johnson found Robinson going to the basket. The bucket was good and a touch foul was called on Michael Dixon. It wouldn’t be the only time Missouri disagreed with a call involving Robinson in this stretch.
A year earlier, Robinson had lost his mother, grandmother and grandfather in a three week span. Now he stood at the line with the biggest free throw of his career.
English: He made some gesture and I know it was kind of like an ode to his mother in some way....and I remember thinking like, He ain’t missing this free throw.”
The free throw fell to make it 75-75. Mizzou took a timeout at 10.1 seconds and the decibel level never lowered.
Phil Pressey took the inbounds pass and the ball wasn’t going to leave his hand. He got past Johnson on the left side but the help defense — Robinson — closed quickly. As Pressey launched, he switched the ball to his right hand. The ball met Robinson’s outstretched right hand and Pressey crumpled to the floor.
Block. No foul. Overtime.
Robinson (after the game): I think I had my eyes closed, to be honest with you.
Self: A big time play from a big time player
Hinson: I remember Thomas’ blocked shot more than any play in college basketball I’ve witnessed or been part of. It’s the loudest I can ever remember a facility, the loudest I can remember a game of any sort including rock concerts. I never heard anything like it. My ears rang for a day and a half after it.
Haith: That was a tough one. To this day, that was tough, tough play
English: A foul should have been called
Matt Pressey: I mean, when you see the pictures or you see the frames and the videos, it’s like, I mean, come on. If you line 100 people up, I mean you gonna get I feel 75-80% (in Missouri’s favor).
Hinson: That’s one we refer to as an Allen Fieldhouse block
Five more minutes were needed to settle the Border War and Big 12 championship, and neither side gave it. CBS cameras caught Self smiling as overtime started. KU took an early four-point lead, but Denmon — who else? — buried a guarded three from the wing with 38 seconds remaining to give Mizzou an 84-83 lead.
Ten seconds later, Johnson found Taylor for an uncontested slam. KU 85-84. Denmon’s eight-footer from the baseline restored Mizzou’s lead with 12 ticks remaining.
Taylor took the inbounds pass, raced up the floor and was fouled in the act. Three weeks earlier, he missed two from the stripe late to help seal Missouri’s victory. Taylor shouldered the burden of the loss.
Taylor: I remember being really sad, tearful almost crying
This ending followed a different script. Taylor rolled in the first shot. The second one was clean. The Jayhawks led 87-86 and Mizzou would have the final possession. Dixon got the inbounds pass from Moore and didn’t rush the dribble. He should have. Dixon ended up on the left side, spotted Denmon on the right wing and got him the ball.
As Denmon rose to shoot, the buzzer sounded.
Kurtis Townsend: They actually made the shot
The ball fell through, an excruciating moment too late. for the Tigers. Dixon slumped over.
The roof came off Allen Fieldhouse. Self pumped both fists after a quick handshake with Haith. Releford pulled off his jersey. No wheat waving on this day, just the most gratifying on triumphs.
English: It sucked. It sucked. We should have won. It would have been a great way to go out in the rivalry and leave the league.
Then and now...
A third meeting surely would happen. With Kansas winning the Big 12 and Missouri second, they were aligned to meet in the Big 12 Tournament championship. And who knows, perhaps a fourth meeting the NCAA Tournament.
But the Jayhawks fell in the Big 12 semifinals to Baylor at Sprint Center.
Self: I was so mad at my guys. It was my fault. But I was mad. We let Missouri get the last laugh. But we had to refocus.
Missouri defeated Baylor and captured the trophy in its final Big 12 basketball event. Mizzou fans chanted, “SEC, SEC.” Outside the arena, English wore an SEC T-shirt while holding up the trophy.
English: Because of that non-call (Robinson on Pressey) It was just kind of a shot at the Big 12, it felt like they took a championship from us.
The NCAA Tournament bracket send both teams to Omaha, Nebraska as No. 2 seeds, KU in the Midwest Region, Mizzou in the West. The Jayhawks scuffled through a defensive battle with Detroit, which would be the team’s style throughout an NCAA run that ended in the national championship game.
Missouri met a different ending.
Somehow, the Tigers couldn’t shake No. 15 seed Norfolk State and lost an offensive battle 86-84.
Haith: The worst type of matchup for us. They were so much bigger than us and they threw in some shots.
Mizzou’s glorious season ended with a 30-5 record. Only one team — the 2009 Tigers that won a Big 12 Tournament with English and Denmon as freshmen — won more games
Haith remained for two more seasons, with an NCAA appearance in 2013 before leaving for Tulsa. The Tigers have been to three NCAA Tournaments since then and seek their first victory in the event since 2010.
KU has rolled along. The 2012 Jayhawks won the eighth of their 14 straight Big 12 championships. After Detroit, they got past Purdue, North Carolina State, North Carolina and Ohio State before falling to Kentucky and Anthony Davis in the NCAA title game.
Self: That was a team that just figured it all out
No, the teams haven’t met in a regular season or tournament game since 2012. But Cuonzo Martin’s first game on the sideline for Missouri came at the Sprint (now T-Mobile) Center against the Jayhawks. The teams agreed to hold an exhibition game for hurricane relief and on Oct. 22, 2017 and all 18,951 tickets were sold. The game, which wasn’t televised, raised $1.75 million.
None of the players had been part of the Border War, but before a raucous crowd there was KU guard Devonté Graham glaring at the Mizzou bench after draining a three-pointer. Missouri star freshman Michael Porter Jr. went for 15 in the first half and seemed to bask in the spotlight. KU won by six, and it’s safe to assume no exhibition game had been played with more intensity.
Now the Border War is back. Missouri always wanted it happen. Kansas supplied the resistance and with plenty of support from KU fans, Self was the school’s voice on the topic.
Fan barbs are where the history, tradition and rancor played out for most of a decade. Until Dec. 11. Haith spent his next two years coaching Mizzou in the SEC and no atmosphere matched the Border War.
Haith: I remember thinking to myself, wow, we’re leaving this? Because this is, this is awesome. I don’t get into the reasoning for leaving the Big 12 and going SEC, I know there’s a lot of factors in that deal. But I love the Big 12, I loved it. And obviously, being at Texas and experiencing that league, I have great fondness for the league all in all. So yeah, it was a special time for me in terms of competing in that league and being in that atmosphere, being in that environment. And the environment we had at home when we played them in our building, it was unbelievable. So those two games that year were two of the most exciting time of my career, coaching career, to experiences as a head coach.
Even Self gets a little nostalgic at what the Jayhawks left behind.
Self: I know I’ll catch some crap from some because people will say I’m the reason we didn’t play there for about 10 years which is partially true, not totally but partially true. I’m excited to get back to playing it. I miss the game ever since 2012; It’s good for the players, good for the fans and certainly there’s been enough water under the bridge and time passed that everybody can look past whatever transpired and want to do what’s in the best interest of the best universities and that’s play.”