LAWRENCE, Kan. - The suggestion that No.2 Missouri has more incentive than No.1 Kansas in the biggest regular-season game in Big Eight history makes Roy Williams laugh. "Regardless of what the polls say, the last time we played, they won," the Kansas coach said Monday. "We're the ones who better have the incentive."
The two neighboring states began battling one another in athletic competition almost 100 years ago, not long after taking opposite sides in the Civil War. Last Jan. 20, when then-No.4 Missouri beat then-No.1 Kansas 95-87, it was hailed as one of their grandest encounters ever.
But another century may pass before anything develops that's quite so big or nationally acclaimed as the televised rematch tonight at 7:30 (ESPN-cable) in Kansas' tradition-rich Allen Fieldhouse. More than 200 media representatives, about double the number who covered last year's Missouri-Kansas tilt, will join fans in the sold-out arena.
"We've been putting in extra chairs and tables," said a school spokesman. "People are really going to be scrunched-up. Some students have been camping outside the fieldhouse since last Friday to get tickets. Where there wasn't any grass, they put up tents on concrete."
Kansas (24-1 overall, 7-1 in the Big Eight) was No.1 for two weeks before losing at Missouri (22-2, 8-1), which had held the top spot for three weeks until losing last Thursday at Kansas State.
There hasn't been a 1-2 showdown in the regular basketball season in four years. There has never been a time when Big Eight teams played each other while ranked No.1 and 2 in the Associated Press poll.
"I think it's great for the Big Eight, the interest and the attention we're getting," Williams said. "People are now seeing some evidence of the kind of basketball we play here."
"I can't remember two ballclubs, particularly with the traditional rivalry we have, playing two games under these conditions," said Missouri's Norm Stewart, the dean of Big Eight coaches. "The last one was a great ballgame and lived up to the hype. Hopefully, we'll have another great ballgame."
Other league coaches believe a game to remember is a foregone conclusion.
"Missouri's got a very unique club," said Nebraska coach Danny Nee. "Anthony Peeler and Doug Smith are two of the finest in the country - great, great players. And John McIntyre, Nathan Buntin and Lee Coward do a great job of complementing them.
"Everybody's still waiting for Kansas to flame out," Nee added. "But they're a great team offensively and defensively. It all makes for a great game."
Last month against Kansas, the Tigers got 24 points from Peeler, their spectacular sophomore guard, and 23 from Smith, a 6-10 senior who had 44 on Saturday against Nebraska. In addition, Buntin had 22 and Coward had 20 in handing the Jayhawks their lone loss of the season.
Kansas, unranked at the beginning of the season, got 18 points from Mark Randall and 16 from Kevin Pritchard and Rick Calloway.
Stewart is hoping for another big effort from Buntin and Smith.
"We need a good inside ballgame from them," he said. "We need a good rebounding job. At the same time, it's not all on their shoulders."
If the Jayhawks hold an edge, it's their home court, where just two years ago they ended a 55-game winning streak.
"The difference in the last game was the home court," Stewart said. "It's going to be an extremely difficult challenge."