While half-heartedly paying attention to the Final Four games yesterday, my mind naturally wandered to Kansas basketball. We had a lot of ups and downs this past season. Obviously, the biggest "down" was Tournament loss to VCU, but I'm determined to not to let that completely overshadow the ups. I mentally compiled some of the best moments of the past season for Kansas, and decided to turn them into a Top 10 list. After the jump, you will find my list for our Top 10 games of the past year.
10) Kansas 103, Missouri 86 (2/7/11) This game wouldn't have made the list against any other team, but since it was Missouri on a Big Monday, it gets special recognition. The Jayhawks somehow found a way to hang 100 on a team coached by Mike Anderson, who by Arkansas' estimation is apparently some kind of basketball genius.
9) Kansas 90, K-State 66 (1/29/11) The Wildcats had circled this game last spring, as it was supposed to be the day they took over the conference. College Gameday dubbed it their game of the week before the season even started. As it turned out, national television was a wonderful format for this beatdown, as we got to show the whole country just what we thought of the team picked to dethrone us in the Big 12. We held Pullen to 8-22 shooting, and T-Rob went off for 17 and 9 in his first game back after sitting one out after his mother's death.
8) Kansas 85, Baylor 62 (1/17/11) The wheels hadn't _completely_ fallen off Baylor's season yet at this point, and at the time it looked like a pretty solid win. What was especially nice about the 20 point road victory was that Baylor had put together a special pregame video for it, which included shots of Baylor hanging 55 points on our football team, and even more out of place, footage from the UNI game last year. We had squeaked by lesser opponents our previous three games, but came out motivated in this one, and made Baylor regret their little pregame show by embarrassing them in their own house.
7) Kansas 81, Memphis 68 (12/7/10) At the time, Memphis was our first ranked opponent of the season (though they quickly dropped out of the polls and Arizona became our best non-conference game). It's always big when we get a chance to play in a place like MSG against a ranked team. It's even bigger when we win the game by double-digits. After the previous two narrow victories leading into this one, the Memphis game solidified in my mind that we really were a good team this year.
6) Kansas 77, UCLA 76 (12/2/10) The Bruins ended up making the Tournament, and were a close game against Florida away from the Sweet 16. In December, however, they'd lost two straight (one of which to some nobody called VCU), and were not highly regarded. Still, they nearly managed to snap Kansas' home winning streak. What made this game so memorable was the finish. UCLA committed a stupid foul with less than a second remaining on the clock (UCLA fans still claim it shouldn't have been called), and Mario Little sealed the deal at the free throw line with the weight of a 61 game home winning streak on his shoulders.
5) Kansas 73, Illinois 59 (3/20/11) I think I was more nervous about this game than any other we played this season. Not because I thought Illinois was better than us by any means, but because a loss in this game would have cemented the "Bill Self can't get it done in March" reputation. Missing out on two straight Sweet 16s as a 1 seed would have been an absolute disaster. Knowing that, many KU fans were concerned about the team coming out and playing tight, as they had two days before against Boston. The 'Hawks actually came out firing and built up a big early lead. The Illini ended up making it close again, but Kansas pulled away and won by double digits. Bill Self got past his successor and former team, and at the time of the win, it felt like the early-exit monkey was off our backs. Sure, it reappeared a week later, but on March 20, 2011, Jayhawk Nation breathed a huge sigh of relief.
4) Kansas 70, Missouri 66 (3/5/11) In a network SNAFU almost as big as the game itself, most people watching in the Kansas City area (myself included) were unable to see what ended up being an exciting finish. Kansas overcame a hostile environment and what seemed like about two hundred turnovers to take Missouri down for the second time this season. Tyrel Reed, really starting to look hampered by his foot injury, stepped up and drained a three with the shot clock running down in the final minute to put the final nail in Missouri's coffin, which will no doubt be one of his many great memories of his senior year. We'll miss you, Tyrel.
3) Kansas 70, USC 68 (12/18/10) Many of you are probably wondering how this could possibly make number three on my list. I'll explain. When ranking these, I was not considering their retrospective importance. Rather, I looked at each game and judged them based on what was going on at the time. Sure, this game now looks like little more than a near miss against a mediocre team. But on December 18, it sent a much-needed jolt of energy through KU's entire fanbase. We hadn't seen Josh Selby yet, and at one time some had begun to doubt whether we'd ever get the chance. Finally, the NCAA gave Selby the OK, and we all circled the USC game on our calendars as the big day. The freshman came out and wowed us all with a 21 point performance that featured 5 made three point shots, none bigger than the game winner coming with 26 seconds remaining. On that day, Kansas fans felt we had something special in Josh Selby, a kid who in one game had seemed to live up to his hype, and who could help carry this team to a national championship. Yeah, we all know what ended up happening, but do you remember how excited you were that day?
2) Kansas 77, Richmond 57 (3/25/11) Didn't we almost have it all? After making it past the first weekend, we got a matchup against Richmond, a mid-major with a "giant-killer" reputation. Given our reputation as the Goliath in so many teams' David stories, Jayhawk Nation was nervous once again. Then we find out Marcus Morris was running his mouth in the tunnel the day before the game. It seemed like we were set up to be the slain dragon once again. However, after a much-publicized skirmish with Richmond before the game, the Jayhawks came out fired up. We built an early lead and never looked back. We were in a fourth Elite Eight in Bill Self's 8 years as our coach. We were a game against either a 10 or 11 seed away from another Final Four. After this game, everything seemed to be falling into place for us. And I'm going to stop right there. It was a great win.
1) Kansas 85, Texas 73 (3/12/11) Ah, redemption. Texas had snapped our 69 game home court winning streak. They had taken away our rightful spot atop the Big 12, albeit temporarily. They had ruined our undefeated record. And here we faced them in Big 12 Championship game. Texas had no shortage of motivation in this one themselves, having folded down the stretch, basically handing us the regular season title. Plus, Markieff Morris had been running his mouth (shocking). These two teams really wanted to beat each other. Fortunately for us, we were better. Tyshawn Taylor played what was arguably his finest game in a KU uniform, with 20 points and 5 assists. The Morri combined for 31 points, 15 boards, and 3 blocks. T-Rob was a rebound away from a double-double. It seemed the whole team was firing on all cylinders, and our Jayhawks reminded the country who the best team in the Big 12 truly is. Thanks for the memories, guys.
Anyone have a favorite game or moment I left out? We went 35-3 and made it all the way to Elite Eight. Things didn't ultimately work out the way we wanted, but there's no reason not to look back on the season with some very fond memories as well. What's your list?