AMES — The memory lurks in a corner of Bryce Dejean-Jones’ mind; a ghost of a game he’s mostly moved past, but hasn’t quite fully shaken.
Allen Fieldhouse. Dec. 18, 2010. A basketball lifetime ago. Two schools ago. Kansas 70, USC 68.
“I missed every shot,” said the then-Trojan freshman and now-Iowa State senior, who returns to the haunting Phog for an 8 p.m. Big Monday matchup between the ninth-ranked Jayhawks and No. 15 Cyclones. “I went 0-for-9. Horrible game. I’m looking forward to going back there and changing things.”
Redemption of the personal and team-wide kind weighs on the minds of both teams.
ISU (16-4, 6-2) stamped itself as a conference title contender by handling Kansas 86-81 two weeks ago as ESPN College GameDay amped up the already-charged atmosphere at a sold-out Hilton Coliseum.
The Jayhawks (18-3, 7-1) haven’t endured a regular-season sweep since the Cyclones accomplished the rare feat in consecutive seasons (1999-2000, 2000-01).
“We owe them,” Kansas guard Kelly Oubre told reporters after his team’s 68-57 win Saturday over Kansas State.
So revenge emerges as a potential factor in a once-lopsided series that has become intense, entertaining, and occasionally heartbreaking.
“We’re real humbled going in there,” ISU forward Georges Niang said after scoring 23 points in Saturday’s 83-66 win over TCU. “We know what we have to do to win.”
Knowing and doing are two different things. Kansas has won 127 of its last 130 games at 60-year-old Allen Fieldhouse.
“It’s so important to come out of the gate quick,” said Cyclone coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team hasn’t won in Lawrence since 2005. “If you don’t, you’re down 20 before you can blink.”
- Who can forget last season’s win-sealing 8-0 Kansas run, which thwarted a Niang-led ISU comeback bid? Niang racked up 24 points — including three 3-pointers — to keep it close until Andrew Wiggins spurred the Jayhawks’ final sprint to daylight.
- Who can flush the image of Ben McLemore’s banked-in 3-pointer that extended the game two years ago — a game the Jayhawks went on to win in overtime?
“It still stings,” said Hoiberg, whose team owns a two-game win streak over the Jayhawks dating back to the semifinals of last March’s Big 12 Championship. “I guess the one way to get over it is to go down there and win.”
Redemption. Revenge. The road to the Big 12 regular season title either rolls through Kansas or comes to a grinding halt there.
The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the past 10 league crowns and Coach Bill Self’s teams are 185-9 on their home court.
“It’s a heck of a challenge,” Hoiberg said. “We’re chasing them right now, so it’s obviously an important game.”
Oubre hopes to channel his inner McLemore, Wiggins or Elijah Johnson and serves as a bellwether for his team. Kansas is 5-0 in games in which he’s nailed two or more 3-pointers.
Fellow guard Brannen Greene has come off the bench to hit 10 of his last 13 attempts from long-range. And we all know what leading scorer Perry Ellis — who’s closing in on 1,000 career points — can do, along with Wayne Selden, Frank Mason III and shot-blocker Cliff Alexander.
“It’s going to be a fast-paced game,” said TCU’s Trey Zeigler, who scored a combined 26 points in his team’s losses to the Jayhawks and Cyclones, and like Dejean-Jones is on his third college team. “An up-tempo game. Both teams like to get out and run. I think it’s going to be a high-pace, high-scoring game.”
Aren’t they all? In the five most recent meetings, the winning team has scored an average of 94.3 points. Niang’s average has also spiked in the last three matchups with the Jayhawks — hitting 21.3 points per game to banish the spectre of a 4-for-20 shooting effort last year at Hilton.
“I feel like we still haven’t scratched the surface of where we can be,” said ISU’s still-developing star junior. “But I think day in, day out if we keep working at it, we’re going to get better. Kansas is a great test for that.”
It’s a rock, chalk crucible of sorts — one filled with memories, both fond and depressing. Redemption hides in the shadows. Revenge fills the margins. Careers come full circle and spirits rise and fall like 3-pointers from the wing and teardrops in the paint.
“Been wanting to go back there for a long time,” said Dejean-Jones, who actually went 0-for-6, not 0-for-9 that December day five long years ago. “I didn’t think I’d get an opportunity to, but coming to the Big 12, it’s pretty exciting to get an opportunity to go back there. … I’m hoping to go back and get my own payback, as well as with the team.”