05 February 2012

GameDay, Revisited

For just the second time in school history, ESPN came to campus for a live broadcast.

It started for the 99th Homecoming, Mizzou vs Oklahoma, when 18,000+ packed the David R. Francis Quadrangle on the University of Missouri campus. Desmond Howard, Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lee Corso; along with Erin Andrews and Trevor Matich; used the historic Columns as a backdrop for the GameDay broadcast, "one of the greatest," according to Fowler.

Among the thousands of fans were fellow student athletes to the football team, namely, Kim English. English was milling about with his GameDay sign, hoping to get recognized.

How about another visit to campus from ESPN?

"GAMEDAY, COME BACK 4 BASKETBALL"

The request was simple enough, ESPN had to grant it, right? In October, 2011, right around the start of the college basketball season, the announcement was made on mutigers.com: "College GameDay is coming to Mizzou Arena."

Your wish is ESPN's command, Kimmie.

ESPN was going to make their return, this time for basketball, to Mizzou Arena for what could turn out to be the final meeting between Missouri and Kansas in Columbia for a long time. The Tigers are slated to transfer to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) on July 1st, 2012, leaving a bit of emptiness among fans of the traditional conferences and rivalry setup.

"It's the fans that have the most angst toward Mizzou for going to the SEC," said Kansas head basketball coach Bill Self in an interview prior to the 266th meeting between the two schools. Missouri, as many may or may not know, extended the offer to Kansas to continue the rivalry, but Self, along with KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger, stated that there is no point in continuing if Mizzou is just going to abandon the conference. Other ESPN analysts such as Doug Gottlieb, say that Texas A&M, Mizzou, and their fans "overreacted" to the possibility of the Big 12 collapsing, and were the some of the more "self-absorbed" in the league. (Texas and Oklahoma both flirted with the PAC-12, along with Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, which led to former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe to make a deal with Texas called the Longhorn Network, which included no profit sharing among the conference members. Point this out to Gottlieb, and you're responded with "Get over yourself." Gottlieb is also an avid Kansas bandwagon rider, and is not afraid to admit that fact, despite attending and playing basketball for the Cowboys in the late 1990s.)

This point was made during the GameDay broadcast, after which it was met with a chant from the Mizzou crowd in attendance: "KANSAS WON'T PLAY! KANSAS WON'T PLAY! KANSAS WON'T PLAY!" The small contingent of Kansas fans that made the 164-mile trek from Lawrence and braved the hostile crowd at GameDay could only just sit back and take the brunt of the anti-Kansas sentiment that dates back to before the Civil War.

Rece Davis (L) with Mizzou head coach Frank Haith
"We would like to continue to play [Kansas]," said Missouri head basketball coach Frank Haith, "Rivalries should not, and are not bound by conference affiliation." This statement was collaborated by the GameDay hosts- Rece Davis, Huebert Davis, Digger Phelps, and Jay Bilas.

Tigers' head football coach Gary Pinkel also showed an interest in keeping the 100+ year old rivalry alive. "They [Kansas] are our biggest rivals. It'd be a shame to end that."

"We would like to continue the rivalry, with either a home-and-home, or a conference tournament in Kansas City," said Mizzou athletic director Mike Alden, back when the SEC switch was announced in November. The stage was officially set for the biggest, most anticipated, and most talked about basketball game between the two schools.

Dozens braved inclement weather to get good spots in line for the best seats in the house. The line started as early as 4pm on Wednesday afternoon, and by the time the doors to Mizzou Arena opened at 7am Saturday, the line wrapped around the block. Mizzou was trying for another GameDay attendance record. (The 18,000+ is still a standing record for football GameDay.)

Small splotches of blue and red were found in a sea of gold inside Mizzou Arena, as some Kansas fans went as far as wearing gold sweatshirts over the top of their Jayhawk pride. Once inside and seated, surrounded by thousands of Mizzou faithful, they shucked their gold and a thunderous "BOOOOO!" cascaded down from the rafters. Some were seated directly behind the GameDay desk. Others were stuck off in a corner with signs that read "171-94, you call that a rivalry?" talking about the series lead Kansas has over Mizzou in basketball. Tiger fans in the vicinity responded to the sign with "Try playing another sport!"

True, the series was 171-94 prior to Mizzou's 74-71 win, but in other sports, it's a different story. In football, Mizzou leads the rivalry 57-54-9 (KU disputes it as 56-55-9 MU). On the baseball diamond, Mizzou's lead is 212-123-6 (also disputed). The overall series in the M&I Bank Border Showdown Series has Mizzou holding a dominant 7-2 advantage in taking home the hardware. They're en route for their 8th, and possibly final Border Showdown trophy.

To add to the hype, Mizzou, when GameDay is in attendance, is 2-1 overall. The first of the two wins being when College GameDay built by the Home Depot broadcasted from Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, when the Mizzou and Kansas football teams were ranked 4th and 2nd. Mizzou won 36-28 and moved into the BCS #1 spot. The second being Oct. 23rd, 2010, when "big, bad" Oklahoma came to town. Mizzou was 11th, OU 1st. Mizzou won 36-27, knocking the Sooners from their perch. Their lone loss was when GameDay was in Norman back in 2007 for Oklahoma's Homecoming celebration. After this weekend, you can improve their record to 3-1 when ESPN is in the house.

Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Phil Pressey and the rest of the guys knew the hype leading up to the game, and pleaded with fans in the week leading up to the game on Twitter and Facebook, saying "Please don't rush the floor. Act like you expected us to win." Those were almost their famous last words. With KU up by 8, with 2:22 to go, the Jayhawks' Conner Tehan had some jack-jawing to do with Denmon after a KU basket. Denmon responded to Tehan with scoring nine points as a part of an 11-0 Tiger run at the end to put the Jayhawks out of their misery, 74-71. Denmon lit up the scoreboard for 29 points, while English brought home 18 and Dixon netted 15, respectively. 

The big story of the game on the Kansas side was Thomas Robinson. After a quiet first half, Robinson exploded in the second, getting Kansas out to their largest lead of the game, 11. Robinson finished with 25 points while Tyshawn Taylor contributed 25. A last-ditch effort and a desperation 3-pt shot at the buzzer sealed their fate, and as Marcus stood in front of the student section, referred to as the "Zou Crew", telling them to stay in their seats, it was literally one versus one hundred. Imagine Denmon being King Leonitis staring down Xerxes' army in the movie "300". It'd be something like that.

Marcus and the gang prevailed, improving their season record to 20-2, 8-2, and move into first in the Big 12 standings, but there is one question that remains, however- Will Jay Bilas follow @Englishscope24 on Twitter?

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