Along with requesting autographs and selfies, hundreds of women asked another favor of KU basketball players at Wednesday’s Ladies Night Out cancer benefit at Allen Fieldhouse.
The attendees called for a victory over Missouri in Sunday’s hurricane-relief exhibition game at the Sprint Center.
“The ladies were expressing how much they want us to win,” KU sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot said with a smile, referring to a 3 p.m., KU-Mizzou battle that will count for bragging rights, but not in any official college basketball standings.
“They were telling us their memories from the Border War. It was really cool to see their passion from it,” Lightfoot added.
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Kansas sophomore guard Malik Newman, the only Jayhawk to have ever played against Missouri — he had 19 points, five rebounds and three assists in a Mississippi State victory over MU on Jan. 30, 2016 before a small crowd in Columbia — also saw the desire for a convincing victory in 450 fans’ eyes.
“Once coach (Bill Self) said something about the game, the ladies … they just got fired up, having a few words to say and things like that,” Newman said. “You can just tell by the atmosphere from the fans, the coaching staff, former players that came and talked to us, you can just tell.”
Pressed for details, Newman acknowledged speaking to just one former KU player — Sherron Collins — this past week about the KU-MU series, which KU leads 173-95. The topic of the Border War has come up in the past, however, such as in the summer when ex-Jayhawks gather in Lawrence for Self’s basketball camp.
“Somebody actually tagged me a little rivalry video,” Newman said. “I don’t know if they made it or if it came off YouTube or something. They tagged me in a rivalry video that was Kansas’ and Missouri’s A-game. It was very intense.” Newman added that he did not know any of the current Tiger players.
Lightfoot’s Arizona-based AAU team a couple summers ago in Minnesota played the MoKan Elite AAU team that included MU freshman Michael Porter and his freshman brother Jontay at a tourney.
Lightfoot knows little else about the Tigers’ current personnel, but knows a few things about past MU squads and KU-MU contests. Lightfoot said his parents “raised me a Jayhawk.” Lightfoot was born in Kansas City and lived there until he was 5 when the family headed to Arizona.
“Obviously the comeback. We were down a good amount. The comeback was exciting,” Lightfoot said in recalling the last game contested in the Border War. KU erased a 19-point second-half deficit to defeat MU, 87-86, in overtime on Feb. 25, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.
“Thomas’ block was pretty cool,” Lightfoot added of a blocked shot by Kansas’ Thomas Robinson that prevented a last-ditch Phil Pressey basket in regulation and sent that game into OT.
Self has not gotten caught up in thoughts about past KU-MU games this week, he says. He’s focused on raising money for hurricane relief and also the first 15 practices of the 2017-18 season.
“It better be better than Late Night,” Self said, noting his team wasn’t sharp in a 20-minute Late Night in the Phog scrimmage on Sept. 30 at Allen Fieldhouse.
“If it’s as good as Big 12 play, then we’re screwed. OK, it’s going to be in between, better than it was three weeks ago and hopefully not even close to what it’ll be a month from now. It’ll probably be somewhere in between,” Self said of the Jayhawks’ play.
He said he’s actually expecting about “15 good minutes” from his squad.
“Certainly young kids don’t understand if they’ve never been through it,” he said of game experience of any kind, especially against a rival. “I want to see how Marcus (Garrett, freshman guard) and Billy (Preston, freshman forward) react. I want to see how Udoka … Udoka (Azubuike, sophomore center) had a free pass last year in the games he played. If he played well, great, if he didn’t play well … now there’s pressure on him to play well. I want to see how Malik reacts obviously sitting out a year (after transfer from Mississippi State).”
Self said he also wants to see how players continue to react to the NCAA’s limiting physicality in the post and on the boards. The NCAA also plans on cutting down on illegal screens and prohibiting making contact with cutters this season.
“I predict scoring will go up this year like most people do,” Self said. “I’m not saying they are trying to take away from playing good defense, but you will have to be really good defensively to actually take people out of what they do offensively and we are not near that point yet. Those are things we really need to work on.”
Self figures his players will have a better feel of the KU-MU rivalry after Sunday’s exhibition, which is sold out.
“The thing about it,” Self said, “is there’s not one player on Missouri’s team connected to Kansas and there’s not one player on our team connected to Missouri. Whenever we used to play, everybody in both programs were totally connected cause we had been playing each other. The connection is through the fans, not through the individuals.
“Even when we used to play, you can talk about the great games we had at Missouri and the hatred and the rivalry. Hey go interview Kim English and ask him if he hated the Kansas players. His first response would be ‘No, I love competing against them.’ Go interview Thomas Robinson and see if he hated Missouri. He’d say, ‘No I didn’t hate them. Those guys were cool. I just loved playing against them because of the third parties, because of the fans.’
“It didn’t have anything to do with the individuals and didn’t have anything to do with the coaches either. It wasn’t a bigger game for me because we were going against Frank (Haith) or Mike (Anderson) or for them because they were going against me. It was a bigger game because it meant so much to the fan base.
“You can try to sell it that way, but why waste energy trying to sell it that way for an exhibition game? The whole deal is to try to get better,” Self concluded.