Rivalry Breakdown: Kansas-Missouri
One of the saddest casualties of college basketball realignment has been the end of the annual Border War between Kansas and Missouri. When the Tigers left the Big 12 in 2012-13, the conference’s most celebrated rivalry was gone, too.
It did not, however, go quietly, with the two teams facing off in a classic 2012 Mizzou Arena contest that saw the home team (led by Marcus Denmon’s 29 points) erase an eight-point deficit in the final three minutes. And that wasn’t even the best Kansas-Missouri game that season.
Read on to find out about the encore that joined the list of the rivalry’s all-time great matchups, along with the rest of the games, stars and plays that defined a series that (though dormant now) stretches all the way back to 1907.
Wins: Kansas 172, Missouri 95
Conference championships (regular season only): Kansas 57, Missouri 15
National titles: Kansas 3, Missouri 0
Consensus All-Americans (first team): Kansas 21, Missouri 5
NBA players produced: Kansas 62, Missouri 26
Kansas’ All-Time Starting 5
C Wilt Chamberlain
PF Danny Manning
SF Paul Pierce
SG Sherron Collins
PG Darnell Valentine
While Chamberlain is still talked about among the greatest centers in basketball history, it’s Manning who turned in the best KU college career, running away with the program's scoring and rebounding records and (in 1988) carrying one of the great Cinderella champions of all time.
Pierce wasn’t nearly the weapon as a Jayhawk that he would become in the NBA, but even so, he developed into a 20 point-per-game scorer before he left.
Collins, conference Sixth Man of the Year for the 2008 national champs, scored more points than any guard in school history, thanks largely to his 232 career three-pointers.
Valentine ranks a distant fifth in career assists as a Jayhawk, but his defense (336 steals) and scoring (1,821 points) help him edge out Jacque Vaughn and Kirk Hinrich for the point guard spot.
Missouri’s All-Time Starting 5
C Steve Stipanovich
PF Doug Smith
SF Derrick Chievous
SG Anthony Peeler
PG Phil Pressey
Both the 6’11” Stipanovich and the 6’10” Smith were really centers as Tigers, but it’s impossible to leave either of them off this roster, as they each finished in the top four in school history in points, rebounds and blocks.
The explosive Chievous, meanwhile, tops the points list by a wide margin at 2,580. In the backcourt, Pressey (who just graduated with school records for assists and steals) is doomed to play second banana to the transcendent Peeler.
At 6’4”, Peeler (one of the rare Tigers to enjoy a successful pro career) was a deadeye shooter, a skywalking dunker and a game-changing defender—he shares that steal record with Pressey.
Most Iconic Coaches
Kansas’ head coaching job has been a fast track to the Hall of Fame, but even in that company, Phog Allen is revered.
The namesake of the Big 12’s toughest home court, Allen (born Forrest Clare) won 590 games at KU, taking the Jayhawks to three national finals (including a championship in 1952).
With 634 wins at the Tigers’ helm, Norm Stewart has more victories than Mizzou’s next four top coaches put together.
Among his famed idiosyncrasies was an absolute refusal to allow his teams to buy food, stay in hotels or buy gas for the team bus while in the state of Kansas—the better to deprive the archrival Jayhawks of tax dollars they could otherwise receive as a state university.
Most Memorable Games
5. 1972: Kansas 93, Missouri 80
A Big 8 title was within reach for the No. 14 Tigers as they headed to Allen Fieldhouse for the season finale. The Jayhawks may have been unranked as a team, but Bud Stallworth proved to be the best individual on the floor by a wide margin, erupting for 50 points to spark a KU upset.
4. 1987 Big 8 tournament final: Missouri 67, Kansas 65
A regular-season split in the 1987 edition of the series had featured the home teams winning by margins of one (Kansas) and three (Mizzou). The conference title game proved just as intense. Nineteenth-ranked Missouri missed a chance to win it at the free-throw line, but the scramble for the ensuing rebound left freshman Lee Coward wide open for his second game-winning shot of the year against the Jayhawks.
3. 1990: Missouri 77, Kansas 71
The first and only meeting of these teams as No. 1 (the Tigers) and No. 2 (KU) in the polls took place at Allen Fieldhouse. Missouri, with Doug Smith and Anthony Peeler leading the way, validated its spot in the polls by toppling Kevin Pritchard and a balanced Jayhawks squad.
2. 2012: Kansas 87, Missouri 86
The best rivalry of the old Big 8 and new Big 12 went out in style, with both teams ranked in the top five for the final clash at Allen Fieldhouse. Missouri, with Marcus Denmon scorching the nets from long range, surged out to an 11-point halftime lead that ballooned to 19 before KU battled all the way back.
Thomas Robinson outmuscled the smaller Tigers for a three-point play to tie the game at the end of regulation, setting up senior Tyshawn Taylor to win it with a pair of clutch free throws at the end of the overtime session.
1. 1997: Missouri 96, Kansas 94
Kansas’ 1996-97 squad was arguably the best of Roy Williams’ storied career, featuring Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz and Jacque Vaughn in the starting lineup. The Jayhawks were 22-0 and ranked No. 1 when they headed into Columbia to take on the unranked Tigers.
Despite the severity of the mismatch, Mizzou—always dangerous at home, especially under Norm Stewart—played like the Jayhawks’ equals all night. Kansas needed a LaFrentz putback in the final seconds just to stave off defeat in regulation, and smooth free-throw shooting keyed by Tigers junior Kelly Thames (10-for-10 on the night) helped force a second overtime.
Tied at 94 at the end of the second extra session, Missouri was trying to hold on for a chance at a game-winner when Vaughn came within a fingernail of a steal. He couldn’t control the loose ball, though, and Mizzou swingman Corey Tate beat the shot clock with a jumper that proved to be the game-winner.
Moment You Shouldn’t Mention to a Kansas Fan
A 2006 showdown in Columbia featuring two unranked teams wouldn’t have had any business being remembered in the storied history of this matchup…except for the last few seconds.
With the game tied at 77, Christian Moody got behind the Tigers defense and went up for what could have been a game-winning dunk, only to be stopped by a hard foul.
With 0.4 seconds on the clock, the 6’8” senior needed just one free throw to earn the win for the Jayhawks. Instead, to the delight of a roaring Mizzou Arena crowd, he threw two bricks off the back iron. The Tigers would go on to claim the win in overtime.
Moment You Shouldn’t Mention to a Missouri Fan
Not quite two years after Missouri managed its biggest win in series history (99-69 in Columbia in 1976), Kansas delivered payback on an epic scale. On a neutral Kansas City floor in late 1977, the 17th-ranked Jayhawks obliterated Mizzou 96-49.
The Jayhawks were led by precocious point guard Darnell Valentine (pictured in his NBA days with Portland). They were on their way to a 24-5 season when Mizzou had the bad luck to face them in the second-to-last edition of the Big 8 holiday tournament.
Valentine’s 20 points paced the team, but Kansas was so overwhelming that its bench alone piled up 38 points and 27 rebounds in the rout.
Public Enemy No. 1 for Kansas
In 1988-89 and 1989-90, Missouri secured its most impressive winning streak ever against Kansas: four straight games, with three of them coming against Top 25 KU squads (including the No. 1-ranked team in both 1990 victories).
The engine driving that success was Anthony Peeler.
In 1989, the then-freshman contributed 15 points to the worst KU loss in Allen Fieldhouse history (91-66), and he was just getting started. Peeler would pour in a combined 46 points in the two 1990 victories to secure the Big 8 regular-season title.
Although Kansas would eventually beat some of Peeler’s Mizzou squads, his crowning achievement in the rivalry would come in his senior season, when he scored the third-most points (43) by an Allen Fieldhouse visitor all time in a hard-fought 97-89 defeat.
Public Enemy No. 1 for Missouri
Ogres have always made great villains, and Kansas—with its longstanding reputation for towering front lines—has had more than its share.
Hall of Famer Clyde Lovellette (pictured), who stepped on Mizzou star Win Wilfong in a 1951 game, is a close runner-up here, but the title ultimately has to go to Wayne Hightower.
Although he didn’t have the bulk of some later KU centers, the 6’8” Hightower had a temper that more than made up for it.
It was the latter factor that earned him his place in Missouri infamy, when—in a 1961 powder keg of a game—he responded to a Charles Henke foul by punching the Tigers center in the face. Unsurprisingly, a brawl ensued, nearly leading to a suspension of the series.
Kansas’ Biggest Claim to Bragging Rights
For all Mizzou’s impressive Big 8/Big 12 performances, the Tigers have been declawed in the NCAA tournament. In 26 tries, Missouri has never once made a Final Four.
That’s a bitter pill to swallow when your biggest rival has 14 Final Four appearances to its credit. The Jayhawks have nearly as many national titles (three) as Missouri has Elite Eight appearances (four).
Missouri’s Biggest Claim to Bragging Rights
When the Big 8 instituted a conference tournament in 1976-77, no team benefited the way the Tigers did. From that season until the conference evolved into the Big 12 two decades later, Missouri won six Big 8 tournament titles, two more than any other school.
It wasn’t all the luck of a single-elimination tourney, either: Mizzou won seven regular-season crowns in that same 20-year span, with the likes of Melvin Booker (pictured) leading the way.
For all Kansas’ reputation for owning its conference since time immemorial, even the Jayhawks couldn’t outdo the Tigers’ performance in those Norm Stewart-led glory days.
The Final Word
Long stretches of this long-lived series have been far more competitive than conventional wisdom would have it. That said, there’s a reason conventional wisdom casts the Jayhawks as the ultimate bullies of the Big 12 and its predecessors.
With nearly four times as many championships in their (mostly) shared conference, not to mention three national titles to Mizzou’s zero, Kansas clearly comes out on top in its biggest historical rivalry.