In the final year that James Naismith coached the University of Kansas in his game, the Jayhawks traveled to Columbia, Mo., for two games against a budding rival, the state university in Missouri. The Tigers won the first meeting on March 11, 1907, and won again the next day, to finish 2-0 against KU and claim a historic distinction and its first coach.
Naismith may have invented basketball.
But he never beat Mizzou at it.
The rivalry launched nearly 105 years ago may reach its peak this weekend as No. 4 Missouri hosts No. 8 Kansas at Mizzou Arena in what could be the rivals' final meeting on MU's campus.
The Tigers' forthcoming move to the Southeastern Conference has this long, angry and riveting rivalry in jeopardy. If history — especially recent history — is a guide, the schools are good for one doozy of a finale. KU was the first opponent to score 100 points at Mizzou's previous home, the Hearnes Center, and Kansas has closed both of the Tigers' past two home courts with last-minute victories. Mizzou has responded by routinely defeating highly ranked KU clubs, upending top-three teams in three consecutive years (1996-98) and ending Kansas' unbeaten record twice in that span.
On the eve of what could be the Jayhawks final visit, here's a look at the 10 best and most-important games played in Columbia, Mo., in the MU-KU rivalry:
1. Mizzou 95, Kansas 87
Jan. 20, 1990 at Hearnes Center
On his 55th birthday, Mizzou threw quite the party for coach Norm Stewart. A crowd of 13,300 serenaded the coach with "Happy Birthday" before tip-off, and, most of all, the Tigers upended the rival Jayhawks. What the game lacked in last-second appeal or overtime drama it made up for in historic importance: Both teams ranked in the top five, with KU at No. 1 and the Tigers at No. 4. The game was closer than the 95-87 final score, with neither team leading by more than eight for the final 32 1/2 minutes and 52 fouls called by officials. Doug Smith iced the win with a dunk for his 23rd point, and Anthony Peeler led the Tigers with 24. The win was the Tigers' 47th in its previous 48 home games, and the loss was KU's first in 20 games that season. Two days later, Stewart received the biggest gift: Less than a year removed from surgery to attack his cancer, Stewart's Tigers replaced Kansas as the nation's top-ranked team.
2. Mizzou 96, Kansas 94 (2 OT)
Feb. 4, 1997 • at Hearnes Center
The Tigers and Jayhawks had played 233 games against each other without getting this deep into overtime, and if Corey Tate hadn't fished the ball out of a scramble near the free-throw line and foisted a prayer, the third OT was inevitable. Tate's jumper with 5.6 seconds left in the second OT pushed Mizzou to what's arguably the biggest upset in the rivalry. Kansas arrived at Hearnes 22-0 and ranked No. 1. Hitched to stars Jacque Vaughn and Raef Lafrentz, the Jayhawks outclassed the 12-9 Tigers. They couldn't outpace them. LaFrentz tied the score, 71-71, with 6.9 seconds remaining in regulation with a put-back shot. He scored nine points for KU in the first overtime. Tate hit two free throws with 10 seconds left to tie the score again, 86-86, at the end over the first overtime. When Vaughn popped the ball loose, KU seemed headed for the win or the game seemed headed for the third OT, but Tate changed that by filching the ball and flinging it with 3 seconds left on the shot clock. "That's why you go to college," said Tate, from Pattonville High. "To do something everyone will remember you by."
3. Mizzou 89, Kansas 86 (OT)
Jan. 16, 2006 • at Mizzou Arena
With four-tenths of a second remaining in regulation and the score tied 77-77, Mizzou's Jimmy McKinney fouled KU walk-on Christian Moody so he couldn't complete a dunk at the buzzer. That put Moody on the free-throw line with a chance to win the game. Moody missed both free throws off the back of the rim, setting up more heroics for Mizzou in overtime. Down 86-85, McKinney dived after a loose ball and whipped it to Thomas Gardner. On his way to 40 points, Gardner drove to the hoop, drew a foul, and did what Moody didn't: sink the free throws that decided the 89-86 victory. The Tigers had trailed by seven points with 39 seconds remaining in regulation; Gardner punctuated their rally with a 3-pointer with 5.6 seconds remaining. Jayhawks coach Bill Self called it "one of the most fun games I've coached since I've been at Kansas." He offered one caveat: "Everything about the game, except the outcome."
4. Kansas 26, Mizzou 16
Feb. 21, 1922 • at Rothwell Gymnasium
The Tigers had won 20 of the previous 24 clashes, and not-yet-legendary Kansas coach Phog Allen hadn't beaten the rivals in nine tries. Mizzou was unbeaten at 13-0 entering the game and, according to The Kansas City Star, scoring 41 points a game. If there had been a ranking for teams at the time, MU would have had a claim on being No. 1. Allen wrote later that his KU team was "planning for breaks which might turn our misfortunes into a startling victorious upset." Kansas led 10-6 at half and won, 26-16. What would be a footnote in history is instead a banner that now hangs in Phog Allen Field House proclaiming KU as the 1922 national champion. The title was awarded to Kansas years later for their 15-1 team. The one loss came at home to Mizzou, and the Tigers had the same record. At the end of the '22 season, MU challenged Kansas to a tiebreaker, but the Jayhawks declined, saying the season was too long. That decision, not a game, may have won one of the program's five titles.
5. Mizzou 63, Kansas 60
Feb. 11, 1987 • at Hearnes Center
A missed free throw put the ball in motion to give a freshman a shot at rivalry immortality. Mizzou grabbed the rebound, got the ball to Lynn Hardy at the top of the arc and Hardy found Lee Coward. From the right wing, Coward pegged a 3-point basket with 2 seconds remaining to set the final score, 63-60. The 17th-ranked Jayhawks stormed Mizzou at the start of the game, opening a 15-2 lead. Danny Manning scored KU's first six points, yet finished the first half in foul trouble. He played cautiously but not tentatively, and when KU hit five consecutive free throws to knot the score, 60-60, Manning scored four of them. Mizzou's plan was to get the ball to Derrick Chievous for the winning shot. He couldn't shake a double team, leaving Coward open to sink a 3-pointer, something he would do at a record-setting clip later in his career. His winning 3-pointer at Hearnes was the first of two game-winning buzzer-beaters Coward hit in the 1986-87 season against KU. Said Kansas coach Larry Brown: "It took some courage for Coward to take that shot."
6. Kansas 84, Mizzou 82
March 7, 2004 • at Hearnes Center
Down by as much as 10 points in the second half, Mizzou rallied to take an 80-79 lead with less than 25 seconds to go in the history of Hearnes, the Tigers' longtime home. KU's Aaron Miles pegged a 3-pointer with 21 seconds remaining to staunch MU's run, and with 2 seconds remaining, 6-foot-11 freshman David Padgett hit a baseline eight-footer to beat Mizzou. Padgett called his jumper "an ugly shot, a lucky shot." Fans remained long after the final buzzer to quietly mark the passing of Hearnes and a loss that coach Quin Snyder called "a tough, tough, tough loss, and a tough way to lose it." Mizzou, its NCAA Tournament hopes all but vaporized by the loss, didn't play again at Hearnes, leaving the old cement block with a 405-72 record.
7. Mizzou 74, Kansas 73
Jan. 19, 1998 • at Hearnes Center
A seesaw second half in which the rivals were tied 44-44 five minutes into the half and 70-70 with 2:02 remaining came to rest in the hands of Mizzou's sixth man Tyron Lee, who dislocated his shoulder minutes earlier. Lee swished both free throws with 11.4 seconds left. KU had enough time to respond and the right guy had the ball, All-American Paul Pierce, but John Woods plucked the ball loose to claim the win. Pierce never got off a shot. All 10 of MU's scholarship players scored as Kansas lost for the first time in conference play. It was the third consecutive year that KU came to Hearnes with a top-three ranking and left with a loss. "They're a top 10 team," Kansas guard Ryan Robertson said, "in this building, at least."
8. Mizzou 47, Kansas 46
Jan. 11, 1969 • at Brewer Fieldhouse
Trailing 46-45 with 2 minutes, 48 seconds remaining, Mizzou gambled on its ability to not only get the last shot but make it. With no shot clock to force the issue, MU coach Norm Stewart told his team to hold the ball, drain time and wait for a last-second shot to either win or lose at the buzzer. One report had the Tigers, a defensive-oriented squad, making 98 passes just to pass the time. The tightly packed crowd buzzing and seconds fleeting, the Tigers ran a play in which junior guard Theo Franks sank a 20-foot shot with seven seconds remaining. KU called two timeouts as it scrambled to create an opportunity to respond, and ultimately, a Jayhawk pass went awry and gave Mizzou the win. "If you want your career to be remembered," Franks told The Kansas City Star almost 40 years later, "do something really positive against KU."
9. Kansas 71, Mizzou 69 (OT)
March 8, 1971 • at Brewer Fieldhouse
Dave Robisch sank three free throws in overtime to send fourth-ranked KU to the win. It was the second consecutive game that the rolling Jayhawks had been taken to overtime, and neither deterred them from their 14-0 conference season. Aubrey Nash led KU with 16 points, Robisch scored 15, and the Jayhawks soared to that year's Final Four. The Tigers packed up their gear, left Brewer — the team's home since 1929 — and moved to Hearnes in the next season.
10. Mizzou 79, Kansas 76
March 11, 1961 • at Brewer Fieldhouse
The rivalry already was overheated because of the Tiger football team's loss to KU to botch an unbeaten record. When the teams met at Mizzou for a nationally televised game, tempers were short. KU's Wayne Hightower stole a ball, blew the layup and came out swinging after MU's Charles Henke had collided with him as he tried to put back his miss. Hightower tried to land a right hook on Henke's chin and a full-on brawl started. Fans spilled onto the court. Members of the Mizzou football team joined in. The school band tried to play the national anthem to distract the crowd. Henke, a two-time All-Big Eight selection, and Hightower were ejected. Mizzou went on to win without the presence in the middle and split the season series. "There was some bad blood between the (teams)," broadcaster Jack Buck said during the telecast as the fight cooled. "You were waiting for something to happen — but it finally did."
* * *
Sources: Post-Dispatch archives, historian Tom Orf, YouTube, Missouri's sports information department.