The purpose of this series is to 'own' the pain and pound our chests about what we've endured. But if this series has been more depressing than empowering for you ... you might want to skip today's post. I won't be offended. But these two entries hurt ... badly.
Kansas 84, Mizzou 82 (2004)
So I've already written about both of today's candidates before, in this uplifting "Worst Moments of the Decade" post. Allow me to quote myself.
A furious February rally (punctuated by this disgusting dunk and an exhilarating 2OT win over an Oklahoma State team that would end up in the Final Four) had Mizzou on the doorstep of the NCAA Tournament despite Belmont, the cloud of Ricky Clemons, and everything else that had happened to Mizzou that season. Despite a late road loss to Texas Tech, a win over KU would probably still get Mizzou into the NCAA Tournament thanks to the late hot streak and a great strength of schedule. Really, it was the perfect setup. Senior day for Arthur Johnson, Travon Bryant and Rickey Paulding. The final game ever at Hearnes. Here's where Mizzou saves its season.
The setup got even more perfect when Mizzou trailed by ten with 5:00 left before rallying furiously to tie the game. AJ had a career high 37 points and was absolutely fabulous down the stretch, making six of six free throws to bring Mizzou back. KU got the ball last, but Keith Langford was too well-covered to get a shot off, so he had to pass it to far-from-offensively-dominant freshman David Padgett ...
... who calmly knocked down an awkward-looking 10-foot line drive with two seconds left. KU stole the inbounds pass, and just like that, it was over. Mizzou's season, the Hearnes era, all of it. Over at the hands of Kansas. That this moment DIDN'T end up in the top five says a lot about the middle part of this decade.
Texas 75, Mizzou 69 (2004)
A random January basketball game against a not-as-traditional rival ranks above all these other gut-wrenching moments? Above a failed national title bid? And losses to Kansas? Yep. I can't explain why this one hit so hard, but ... I'm still not sure I've gotten over this one. It was just so unfair in every way.
Remember Bill Simmons' "Levels of Losing" column from way back when? Remember The Stomach Punch game?
Level III: The Stomach Punch
Definition: Now we've moved into rarefied territory, any roller-coaster game that ends with (A) an opponent making a pivotal (sometimes improbable) play or (B) one of your guys failing in the clutch. ... Usually ends with fans filing out after the game in stunned disbelief, if they can even move at all. ... Always haunting, sometimes scarring. ... There are degrees to The Stomach Punch Game, depending on the situation. ... For instance, it's hard to top Cleveland's Earnest Byner fumbling against Denver when he was about two yards and 0.2 seconds away from sending the Browns to the Super Bowl.
Despite the fact that this wasn't even a postseason game, this was the quintessential Stomach Punch game. Mizzou lost a lot of tough games that year (seriously, no single season has been more represented on this list than the 2003-04 basketball campaign), but there was something special about this one: Mizzou had played so well. They had played defense like you always wanted Mizzou to play defense. They knew their backs were against the wall after laying eggs against Memphis, Belmont and Iowa State, not to mention showing nothing viable at all against Syracuse. They needed this game, and they played like it. Whether it was Linas Kleiza blocking a Brian Boddicker three, or Rickey Paulding dunking on heads, or Arthur Johnson and Kleiza making some huge free throws, Mizzou made every play they needed to make. Except one. Joe Walljasper, take it from here:
The hour was getting late, so the Missouri Tigers were making it easy for the ESPN SportsCenter folks. The script went something like this: troubled team learns the errors of its ways, starts playing a better brand of basketball and takes a huge step toward the NCAA Tournament with a victory over Texas.
Cue the tape of Rickey Paulding slashing along the baseline, dunking violently and chinning himself on the rim with 32 seconds left in the game. Offensive aggression rewarded. Cut to Arthur Johnson rotating to impede the progress of a driving Royal Ivey and rejecting Ivey’s shot with 10 seconds left. Team defense rewarded.
In two highlights, Missouri’s transformation from underachiever to Big 12 title contender would be summed up neatly.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, that wasn’t a wrap.Johnson’s blocked shot happened to land at the feet of Texas forward Brian Boddicker, who tied the game with a 3-pointer. Yadda, yadda, yadda, the Longhorns won 75-69 in overtime.
I remember absolutely nothing about overtime. I'm pretty sure I may have actually blacked out after Boddicker's shot went in. Apparently Texas went 10-for-10 from the free throw line to ice the game. I have no idea. Mizzou would go on to rally one more time, playing wonderfully before losing to Kansas (Moment #8) and collapsing in the Big 12 Tourney and NIT, but I personally never got over this one. The Hearnes losses to Kansas in 2003 and 2004 made me angry; the Belmont loss made me bitter; the Gonzaga loss made me furious, and not at the team. But this one just made me sad, and that rarely happens.