By The Associated Press
LAWRENCE, Kan.—Tyshawn Taylor hardly hesitated when the topic was broached.
Yes, he said finally, Kansas-Missouri is a little more meaningful than a typical Big 12 game.
“This rivalry goes way back before we even know, so we kind of take on that role of not really liking those guys, and I think in a competitive sport we play in, that’s how it should be,” the Jayhawks’ senior guard said Thursday. “That’s what makes those Kansas-Missouri games fun.”
Another thing: both teams being ranked in the top 10.
The No. 8 Jayhawks set their sights squarely on Saturday night’s showdown with the fourth-ranked Tigers after dispatching Oklahoma on Wednesday night with cold, cruel efficiency.
Kansas used a big second-half run to blow open what had been a close game, providing a stark reminder to those folks just across the state line about how good the seven-time defending Big 12 champs can be when they’re hitting on all cylinders.
There are more than just bragging rights at stake, though that’s a big part of it.
The Jayhawks (18-4, 8-1 Big 12) are also trying to remain first place in a league race that is just beginning to shake out. Missouri (20-2, 7-2) is only a game back, with the two teams still set to meet at Allen Fieldhouse on the final Saturday of February.
It’s the first time Kansas and Missouri will meet with first place on the line since 2009.
“We’re looking at it like we’re playing on the road and we need to get a road win,” Taylor said. “In that respect, it’s another conference game that we need to win.”
The matchup at Mizzou Arena will be the 14th time the schools have played when both are ranked in the top 10, and if not for the Jayhawks’ loss at Iowa State over the weekend, it would be the third time that they’ve played as top five foes; the Tigers won both of those meetings.
Kansas coach Bill Self has been around for enough of the games to know how important the outcome is to both schools, especially with the Tigers headed for the SEC after this season.
“How many times we played there? Eight? And we’ve won how many? 5-3?” Self asked. “I’ve got five favorite games and three that are very, very unpopular in my historical memory.”
That’s a pretty good illustration of the passion that courses through the rivalry.
Kansas has a 171-94 advantage in the series and has won the last five. The last defeat was in 2009, when Zaire Taylor’s winning shot gave Missouri a 62-60 victory.
That would be one of those games that Self doesn’t relish.
“There’s nothing more fun in my opinion than beating Missouri,” Self said, “and I’m sure they’d say there’s nothing more fun than beating Kansas. We’ve had some great games over there.”
The Jayhawks don’t have the depth that they’ve had in years past, and they certainly don’t have the guards to match up with Missouri’s flotilla of perimeter threats. Kansas has been hit or miss with rebounding lately, and the turnover bug has popped up at inopportune times.
One thing Self’s not worried about is the atmosphere.
Even though Mizzou Arena will be packed to capacity with more than 15,000 fans — courtside seats were fetching more than $500 on the secondary market Thursday — the volume of noise actually can make it easier for an opposing team to operate. Individual comments are drowned by the wall of sound, which Self believes can allow a team to focus better in the heat of competition.
“If it’s loud, you don’t hear anything. Seriously,” he said. “I don’t think what people say or those sorts of things will have any bearing on the game.”
In fact, Taylor said he wants the environment to be hostile.
“I’m thinking it’s going to be pretty rough down there, and it should be. They’re a top five team, a rival,” he said. “I’d be disappointed if there wasn’t a good crowd in there.”