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LAWRENCE, KS--The nation has seen Missouri and Kansas play for 85 minutes this season. It has seen each team win once. It has seen the Tigers score 160 points and the Jayhawks score 158. It has heard Kansas fans complain the officials stole one from their team in Columbia and it will now hear Missouri fans echo the same refrain.
In those 85 minutes, we have seen Thomas Robinson's dominance, Kim English's guts in holding a man six inches taller to two points and five rebounds, Phil Pressey's vision, Tyshawn Taylor's failure and triumph, Michael Dixon Jr.'s rising to the moment and just failing to meet to it again, Connor Teahan's dead-eye shot and the ice water in Marcus Denmon's veins.
"These guys played their hearts out. They left everything on the court," Frank Haith said. "I read everything. We weren't supposed to be in the game. We weren't supposed to be in the game today. These guys came out and competed."
We have seen all that and we still can't answer one simple question: Who is better?
For all the beautiful basketball the Tigers and Jayhawks have put on display this season, each team won a game. Each won the one it thought it probably deserved less. Bill Self said his team played about as well as it can for 34 minutes in Columbia and gave the game away. English was asked if his team can play better than it did for most of the day in Lawrence and said that the Tigers gave Kansas a gift.
Who's better? Who the hell knows? If it was the final time these teams play, we will end without an answer. Haith hopes it is not, at least long-term.
"Maybe the last time we play. I think that would be sad if you saw the atmosphere out here today and the atmosphere in our place," the first-year Missouri coach said. "It would be sad if we don't play. I just don't understand it and hopefully we can get to it and we'll continue to play. I think it's too good of a game and too good of a rivalry not to play."
"Players on the court played their hearts out. Let the fans have fun, I don't care," English said when asked how the rivalry should be remembered. "We played our hearts out, they played their hearts out, they won the game. We have no control over the prior 100 years. We have control over these past four seasons. Players played their hearts out, their players played their hearts out, our coaches gave it their all. I don't care how you remember it."
If it was our last look at this rivalry, the games this year have been a fitting end. But most don't think it is over just yet. What the Tigers and Jayhawks have shown everyone is that they are the two best teams in the Big 12. Most would be surprised if we don't see Border War 2012, v 3.0, in the Big 12 tournament championship game, especially now with Kansas State likely not on the Tigers' side of the bracket.
"I wouldn't have a problem with that. I wouldn't mind playing them," said Taylor after playing hero on Saturday. "Sign me up."
"I don't care if we play Fort Hays State to win the Big 12," English said. "We want to win three games and win the big 12 tournament. I don't care who we play."
Whether it is Kansas in Kansas City or anyone else in the NCAA Tournament, English was resolute about one thing.
"This loss will not define our season," he said. "This isn't football. We aren't out of the national championship running with a regular season loss."
And, you know what? I was wrong earlier. There is one thing we most certainly have learned in watching 85 minutes of the Border War. These teams are good enough to stay in that running for the long term. Both of them.
Hell, if it really is the last year they're going to play, why not make it worth it? Maybe they can play four times. As good as the first two have been, the nation probably deserves that.
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