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Renewed Kansas-Mizzou rivalry is about more than college basketball — it's about American history

Two basketball players, one from Kansas and the other from Missouri, handling the basketball are shown against the backdrop of Kansas and Missouri maps with the school logos above them.
Photo Illustration-Carlos Moreno, Sam Craft, Adam Hunger
AP/KCUR 89.3
For some, the Kansas-Mizzou matchup places star players from both schools on a stage where athletic prowess becomes symbolic of a nation's pivotal soul-searching that placed the neighboring states on opposing teams.

After a decade of dormancy, KU and MU meet to reignite one of college basketball's hottest rivalries. Some fans say these are two schools that have loved to hate each other for over a century.

Cue the fireworks: The longstanding rivalry between the Missouri Tigers and Kansas Jayhawks will heat up Saturday when the schools face each other on the basketball court for the first time since an exhibition game in Kansas City four years ago.

The benefit game at the time raised $1.75 million for relief efforts to hurricane victims in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

When Mizzou left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference after the 2011-12 season, the basketball border skirmish lost some of its meaning. But for the first time in a decade, this game will actually count on each team’s won-loss ledger. Last time the two met in a regular season game on February 25, 2012, the fourth-ranked Jayhawks won an overtime thriller at Allen Fieldhouse.

In 2012 after the game, Self said, “That’s the best home win I think I can remember us having and we’ve had some good ones."

LAWRENCE, KS - November 18, 2021 - Head Coach Bill Self of the Kansas Jayhawks during the game between the Stony Brook Seawolves and the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, KS. Photo by Missy Minear/Kansas Athletics
Missy Minear/Kansas Athletics
LAWRENCE, KS - November 18, 2021 - Head Coach Bill Self of the Kansas Jayhawks during the game between the Stony Brook Seawolves and the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, KS. Photo by Missy Minear/Kansas Athletics

And he reiterated that point this week. In 2012 he added, “(When) I was at Illinois, I loved playing Missouri when I was there, and I hated nothing more than to losing to Missouri.”

Rewind the tape

In 2012 both teams were considered one of the top five teams according to the weekly Associated Press poll. Bragging rights were also on the line in a border rivalry that dates back to 1907 on the basketball court. But in the minds of many, the rivalry echoes the reverberations of the Civil War that found Missouri on the losing team.

Because of that deep-rooted animosity, Self appeared to be overly naïve after the 2017 sold-out exhibition game when he was quickly asked about the potential regular season renewal of the rivalry game.

“I figured we’d talk about the game or talk about raising a lot of money,” said Self that day. “I didn’t think that’d be the second question out of the chute.”

Of course, some of the interest was generated by the excitement surrounding the much-heralded signing of freshman Michael Porter during Cuonzo Martin’s first year as Mizzou coach.

"It was electric," said Martin this week when asked to reflect on the exhibition game four years ago. "As ballplayers, if you get a chance to play in games like that every year, it's a special thing to be a part of because it's history."

The game was essentially a practice scrimmage, but then-KU guard Devonte Graham said he sensed a different intensity level, explaining, “In warmups you could just tell how much juice there was in the building (in what was then called Sprint Center) and it was a great atmosphere to play in.”

Earlier this week when Self reflected on that benefit game four years ago, he said, “I did like that, the feeling of that much interest. Good for our sport and good for both places.”

With two of Mizzou’s four losses this season to UMKC and Liberty University, the Tigers aren’t bringing much sizzle to Lawrence compared to their last meeting against the Jayhawks when they were ranked No. 3. But the mere image of KU’s crimson and blue matched against the black and gold of the Tigers supersedes any potential lopsided final score and reminds history buffs of another fiercely fought battle with far more than bragging rights at stake.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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