By Chad Rader
After two thrilling, last-minute thrillers between Kansas and Missouri, everyone wanted a bonus round, one for the road between the two.
Maybe we all wanted it too early. Maybe, just maybe we’ll see KU vs MU one more time. In the NCAA final.
Far fetched? Probably. Wishful thinking? Most likely.
But what the heck. As Fred White used to say back in the Royals broadcasts, “If you want to dream a little…”, then he’d concoct some scenario with the Royals loading the bases, a grand slam, then …
Is it really such a reach? Missouri was the talk of the CBS Selection Sunday, and has a chip on their shoulders in thinking they should’ve been a No. 1 seed. Kansas received a Yellow Brick Road through Omaha and St. Louis, though has seen similar paths through Denver (’96, Syracuse), Oklahoma City (’98, Rhode Island) and St. Louis (’04, Georgia Tech) fall shy of the Final Four.
But this year feels different. The two matchups were classics. And somehow, someway, there feels like there should be another. Both are No. 2 seeds, both are ranked in the top six in the country. So how does it happen? Here goes...
Friday, March 16
3:04 pm – Missouri tips, and comes out a’blazin’. Kim English presents issues for Norfolk State, and Marcus Denmon also doesn’t screw around in his final NCCA trip, getting MU off to 10-2 start.
3:42 pm – The M-I-Z-Z-O-U is rockin’ Omaha, the Tigers take their No. 1 chip into halftime with a 42-27 lead.
8:57 pm – Most MU fans have left the arena to frolick in the Omaha downtown district. Those sticking around either wanted to boo the Jayhawks, or avoid listening to Marv Albert call the region’s action. Kansas finally gets underway with Detroit at 9:09, as again, KU plays the final game of the first round (I refuse to call it the “second round”).
9:37 pm – Tyshawn Taylor’s two fouls allow Ray McCallum Jr. to enjoy a fantastic first half, and Detroit leads KU, 31-29, at intermission.
10:42 pm – Detroit hangs tough, but eventually Elijah Johnson and Taylor get running and KU escapes, 64-57.
11:42 pm – KU and MU fans get in a skirmish at … we’ll leave that for the Omaha blotter.
Sunday, March 18
Missouri takes on the challenge most feared, facing an up-tempo Florida team. With a hot first half, Florida leads 41-36 and MU fans feel tight in their stomach.
Michael Dixon does what he has all season though, and scorches the nets in the second half. Ricardo Ratliff feasts inside during a 10-2 surge in the final minutes to tie the score at 79-79 with :42 left. The Gators miss a 12-footer, English corrals the rebound and Denmon hits a running floater with :02 remaining to escape with an 81-79 win, into the Sweet 16.
Kansas follows with a tussle against Purdue, but simply is too much for the Boilermakers and walk away with a 72-59 win, also into the Sweet 16. The biggest cheer comes when remaining Tiger fans catch the Memphis 68-64 upset of Michigan State on the scoreboard.
Both fans grit their teeth and wish “Hope to see you in New Orleans”, spitting into their hands before patting the other on the back.
The road in the wild west turns into the great wide open for Mizzou. Along with the Memphis win, Marquette barely eluded Murray State playing a home game in Kentucky
In another run-and-gun affair, the Golden Eagles lead 32-26. But from there, Mizzou enjoys the pace. Ratliff cleans up. Steve Moore adds a few timely buckets, and the Pressey Brothers cause havoc on defense. Denmon, Dixon and English rack up 67 points and Mizzou surges in the second half for a 87-76 win, and into the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009.
Much like the Tigers, KU catches a nice bracket-buster as Georgetown was picked off again in the first round by Belmont. NC State rode the wave into the Sweet 16, but comes out flat as Taylor comes up big. Robinson and Withey outmuscles the Wolfpack with a combined 45 points, 23 rebounds. Kansas starts it’s spitting down the Mississippi again, 64-48.
Memphis eludes the shadow of its regional nemesis, Louisville, in an OT battle. Marquette. Memphis. Sound familiar? It should, as in 2009, Mizzou beat the schools in succession en route to its Elite Eight appearance against UConn. This time, it laid down the road to a Final Four. Memphis simply doesn’t have enough guns to hang with Missouri, as the Tigers pull away in the final five minutes, 83-74. Believe it or not, from Norm Stewart to Anthony Peeler, Mizzou is going to the Final Four!
Kansas also enjoyed an easy ride to the Elite Eight, but the hyped matchup against North Carolina is set. KU trails early, but eventually the interior play of T-Rob and Withey, along with Taylor elevating his game push the Jayhawks ahead with 5:00 left in the game. A key three from Connor Teahen and a Travis Releford steal wrap up the game for KU in front of a sellout crowd in St. Louis, 77-71.
A lot of hype surrounds what turns out to be a 1-2-2-2 Final Four. Missouri doesn’t have to wait until SEC play to face Kentucky. Kansas gets a rematch against Ohio State, and the talk is about the Buckeyes winning with Jared Sullinger back in the lineup in this faceoff.
Kentucky and Mizzou go toe-to-toe, but eventually the younger Wildcats wither. Anthony Davis gets tooted for a phantom foul, Ratliff takes advantage and the thin bench of UK shows. Meanwhile, Dixon lights up UK for 17 points, Denmon reels off 24 and yep, the Black and Gold is in the final!
But sure enough, Mizzou gets to the national title game and guess who’s there? Yep, the Jayhawks. After Sullinger and Robinson collide in an epic battle, KU wins on a Elijah Johnson 3 with :22 left to advance to the final, 74-73.
For the fourth time in NCAA history, two schools from the same conference collide in the NCAA final. For Kansas, obvious references to the 1988 title over Oklahoma arise. For Mizzou, the discussion swirls about the hated Jayhawks, and how destiny would have the road lead right into Kansas in the final.
So what happens in the end? Who wins? How many fights break out on Bourbon Street? Well, I’ve done the dirty work for you and laid out the road. The ending – well, its for you to dream a little and decide.
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