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It's not just another game

An oral history of the Iowa State and Kansas rivalry

Keep your options open.

In December 2014, ESPN told the Iowa State Athletics Department to be flexible on the start time for the Kansas game they were hosting in January. There was a possibility that the College GameDay crew might come to Hilton Coliseum to host its show that day.

The Athletics Department sprang into action — all hands on deck. The department ran a student-ticket pick-up in December to reserve seats for the game on a first-come, first-serve basis. The reserved tickets were meant to allow students to attend the potential College GameDay broadcast instead of waiting in line outside Hilton for the best seats.

ESPN had a decision to make. There were plenty of matchups ripe for a showdown scheduled for Jan. 17, 2015 — Duke at Louisville, Utah at Arizona, West Virginia at Texas. But none of those games were selected.

Instead, for the first time in the telecast’s history, College GameDay chose to host the show at Hilton Coliseum, where No. 9 Kansas (14-2) would take on No. 11 Iowa State (12-3). The only two losses in Hilton over the past two seasons were to none other than the Kansas Jayhawks.

Students showed up in bulk to be in the background of the telecast, holding signs like “Bill Self stole my bike,” “Bill Self drinks wine coolers,” “Perry Ellis shaves his legs” and a sign with Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz saying “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” And as if the fans weren’t excited enough, the crowd exploded when College GameDay host Jay Williams ripped open his button-down to expose an Iowa State jersey.

ESPN's Jay Williams reveals an Iowa State jersey during GameDay in January 2015.
Photo by Kelby Wingert/Iowa State Daily

While the wind chill was at 28 degrees just before the 8 p.m. tip, Hilton Coliseum was anything but cold. Packed in like sardines, more than 14,000 fans — many of whom witnessed Iowa State winning its first Big 12 Tournament Championship since 2000 the previous spring – filled Hilton.

At the half, the Cyclones were up by three points. After an explosive start to the second half, Iowa State was up by as many as 12 points. But as the Jayhawks normally do, they crawled back in, narrowing the deficit to three points again.

With the help of 20 points from Naz Mitrou-Long, the Cyclones held off Kansas, winning 86-81.

"I told those guys how much they deserve getting a GameDay [telecast] to Iowa State because of what they have done to help put Iowa State basketball on the map," then-head coach Fred Hoiberg said after the game. "That is a credit to what has happened in this program the last few years, and that is all due to the players, so I told them to enjoy it."

A sign at Allen Fieldhouse after Iowa State beat Kansas in early 2017.
Photo by Luke Manderfeld/Iowa State Daily

SB Nation writer Kevin Trahan said the game symbolized “the return of Hilton Magic, stolen back from the Jayhawks.”

“But this game was different than winning in the Big 12 Tournament, and it was different than pulling a major upset against the Jayhawks,” he wrote. “This was Iowa State gaining the upper hand on Kansas and proving to be a credible challenger in the years to come.”

But long before that national recognition in 2015, the Iowa State and Kansas rivalry was alive and well. It has a storied past full of peaks and valleys, controversial calls and games with everything on the line. Here is some of that history, told through the people who have been through it.

The history

Iowa State’s first intercollegiate basketball game in 1908 was against Kansas, according to university archives. The two schools are in the middle of the Midwest, approximately 268 miles apart, and are separated by the state of Missouri. They are unlike other basketball powerhouses.

Kansas has won 17 regular season titles in the 25-year history of the Big 12 Conference. While Kansas basketball has had a name brand for many years, many would argue Iowa State has created one for itself as well.  

The Jayhawks lead the matchup 115-48 if you started keeping track in the 1949-50 season. If you look at the last five seasons, Kansas still holds the lead, 8-5. But if you narrow the scope a litte more, and look at only the last four seasons, the series is tied 5-5.

Assistant athletics director for communications Mike Green: If there’s one team in the league, if you ask any Kansas fan, who’s been their pest, I would say it’s Iowa State.

Longtime Des Moines Register columnist Randy Peterson: I’ve always known it to be a rivalry. Even in years Iowa State hasn’t been the greatest, they get up well for Kansas. Whether the game’s in Ames or whether the game’s in Kansas, it’s usually always been a good game.

Kansas head coach Bill Self: I think KU and Iowa State have always had a nice rivalry, but I think it has certainly intensified in the last eight to 10 years. They have had such a good run of players, and we have, too.

In the past 20 years, no other team has beaten Kansas more than Iowa State.

Peterson: It annoys me when people say Iowa is Iowa State’s biggest basketball rival. Well, that’s B.S. — I mean, please. If the Iowa fans want to think that, that’s fine. But it’s no question that Iowa State, Kansas is the biggest rivalry. I can never remember when these games weren’t heated among fans or among players.

It’s a rivalry that reaches beyond the bounds of the Big 12. Head coach Steve Prohm said he was paying attention to the matchups even before coaching at Iowa State.

Prohm: I followed it. When I was head coach at Murray State, you know you’re ingrained in your program, but I liked watching Big Monday and ESPN Super Tuesday. I remember watching Niang on ESPN GameDay. I liked watching Iowa State play. Obviously, I followed Kansas. I’ve joked about this — a lot of stuff that we did ball-screen-wise were things that I took from [Kansas] and studied from them. That’s what a lot of our playbook was — it’s changed now.

The phantom points

Alongside the memorable games are also memorable calls — some that the Cyclones still hold onto.

One of the craziest calls Green has ever seen happened in Allen Fieldhouse during former Iowa State head coach Wayne Morgan’s first year — 2004.

Green: A couple things happened in that game that to this day are just bizarre.

Iowa State was down double digits. Iowa State forward Jared Homan went up for a layup and got fouled in the act of shooting. He went to the line to shoot his two free throws. He dribbled twice, took his first shot, missed it. And then things got weird.

Green: Our guys are in the lane off to the side. They obviously don’t do anything after the first shot because it’s a two-shot foul.

A Kansas player grabbed the rebound, threw it to a guy at half court on fast break, and one of the Jayhawk players took a shot from the corner — the refs call it: basket good. All without Iowa State defending them because the team had another free throw.

Green: And our coach just goes ballistic. ‘What is going on? You know, that was a two-shot foul.’ So the refs are like, ‘Oh crap,’ and they start conferring, like, ‘yeah we screwed this up, you’re right, that was a two-shot foul.’

The refs huddled for five minutes, trying to figure out what they were going to do. The decision was that they count the basket for Kansas because it was an uncorrectable error.

And the calls didn’t get better.

Morgan: There were the phantom [points from free throws] that they didn’t take off, but at the end of the game, we were up three, and the kid [Keith] Langford shot a jump shot that the referee said it was three points to tie the game. The replay showed his foot was on the line, it was a two.

Iowa State senior Deonte Burton goes in for a lay-up during its game Jan. 16, 2017, at Hilton Coliseum. The No. 2 Jayhawks defeated the Cyclones 76-72.
Photo by Emily Blobaum/Iowa State Daily

Green: I explain this play to people and they go, ‘What, that happened in a game?’ ‘That happened in a game.’ And they go, ‘That doesn’t make any sense.’ ‘I know it doesn’t make any sense. It happened in a game and it happened to us.’

Morgan: So they should’ve lost in regulation.

Instead, Iowa State lost in overtime. And if the game wasn’t bad enough, the night got worse.

Green: We drive into the Lawrence airport … and we see like five cop cars. Their cherries are going, and we’re like what’s going on?

As they drove the bus in to get on the plane, they were told someone was on their plane and they had to search it. Protocol said they had to wait two hours to make sure the plane was safe, so they ended up just making the four-hour drive home.

The ‘no call’

Iowa State was up by two points in Hilton Coliseum on Feb. 25, 2013.

Flashback to January earlier that year, Kansas was down three with just a few seconds on the clock in Allen Fieldhouse.

Former player and former head coach Fred Hoiberg: We knew exactly what they were gonna run and we messed up on one of the switches. It left McLemore’s hand and it looked so off when he shot it that I actually started my way down to shake coach Self’s hand. Then it banked in and I almost fell over.

Iowa State senior Monte Morris loses control of the ball during a game against Kansas Jan. 16, 2017, at Hilton Coliseum.
Photo by Emily Blobaum/Iowa State Daily

Despite outscoring the Jayhawks in the second half, that buzzer-beating play forced the game into overtime. Kansas eventually won 97-89.

Flash forward to February — Iowa State was looking for revenge.

The clock was winding down. Kansas’ Elijah Johnson drove to the hoop, with his team down two points.

Green: He comes down, throws up a shot and misses it badly. Georges Niang was a freshman at the time. He plays it perfectly — he’s right underneath the basket and Johnson flies right into him. Georges falls down and Johnson falls basically on top of him. They didn’t call anything.

Hoiberg: Georges clearly took the charge, and unfortunately we didn’t get the call and lost that one in overtime.

Prohm: I remember watching the charge call. I watched that game live.

Peterson: The officials did such a horrible job that two of the three were publicly reprimanded by the Big 12. It was crazy. Iowa State had the game won. The officials, not only on the questionable calls they made, but there was one Kansas player [Johnson] who committed the foul. It should’ve been his fifth foul and he would’ve fouled out of the game. That was one of the many questionable calls.

Georges Niang goes up for a lay-up against Kansas at Hilton Coliseum.
Photo by Iowa State Athletics

Allen Fieldhouse and Hilton Magic

Former Iowa State point guard Jamaal Tinsley was a transfer and only played two years at Iowa State. Growing up in New York, he wasn’t intimidated by away games.

Green: We were getting ready to play Kansas again down in Allen Fieldhouse and we had won the year before with Marcus Fizer.

Iowa State won that game in the 1999-00 season 64-62.

Green: All the media were talking to him and they were saying what a tough test this is going to be to go down to Allen Fieldhouse, it’s hallowed ground, one of the greatest arenas of all time, toughest environments. And Jamaal goes, ‘It’s just another gym.’ So when he says that it comes out in the paper.

The comment was pre-social media, but the news still spread.

Green: It appears in the Kansas papers too and they’re all up in arms. ‘How can you disrespect us?’ And then he backs it up.That was the thing that was so cool about it. He says it and you’re like, ‘Ah, jeez, Jamaal, why’d you say that? Cause they’re going to flip out, you know, this is Allen Fieldhouse.’ And he goes down there and he backs it up.

Tinsley ended up with a 4-0 record against the Jayhawks.

Green: Not only 4-0 against Kansas, but 2-0 in Allen Fieldhouse. There’s probably not too many people who can say they’re 4-0 against Kansas.

For some, it wasn’t just another gym.

Peterson: It’s very old — ancient. But it’s historic.

Hoiberg: The first thing I would think about with the Kansas games were as a player, and I’ll never forget the first moment that I walked into Allen Fieldhouse and saw the banners, retired jerseys and all the history.

Peterson: Before the game, when all the players come out on the floor, they’ve got this whole elaborate introduction with all the bells and whistles. It’s like a rock concert. Kansas is off the charts. You shake — you can feel the boom, boom, boom. And they play the music loud and there’s so much history with Kansas basketball they show on the huge video board that hangs over the floor. They’re showing highlights from Kansas in the past from Wilt Chamberlain to Paul Pierce. ... Some opponents don’t even come out on the floor until Kansas’ introduction is over.   

Hoiberg: It was a really fun rivalry to play in, and unfortunately I never won in that building, but we did have some success against them at home.

What makes it so hard to play at Allen Fieldhouse?

Prohm: Great players. Great coaches. Simple.

Former Iowa State point guard Monte Morris: That was a great atmosphere to play in. Nobody really wins there.  

Except last season, the Cyclones did. Iowa State snapped Kansas’ 54-game home winning streak with a 92-89 comeback, overtime win at Allen Fieldhouse. Iowa State guard Donovan Jackson hit a 3-pointer to ice the game with under a minute left to play. The Cyclones trailed by 14 going into halftime.

Morris: We just went in there and played; you need to make plays to win in there. Being down 15 in the second half, to go and come out on top, it speaks for itself.

Hilton is a tough place to play, too.

Self: It seems to me that the players from both teams enjoy the atmospheres at both places. Going to Ames, we know it is going to be hard and we certainly look forward to each year.

Hoiberg: Allen Fieldhouse speaks for itself. So many people say that it’s maybe the loudest arena in all of college basketball, but I would put Hilton up there with it. I think Hilton’s every bit as loud when the fans get going, especially late in games and it’s bouncing off the wood ceiling, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Peterson: At Iowa State you do have Hilton Magic. I’ve heard the fans so loud, and so revved up, that you can see the backboards shake. I don’t hear that for every game. I hear that for the Kansas game if there’s reason to be loud.

Prohm: They’ve got great tradition there. When you talk about great environments in the Big 12, you’re talking about Hilton and Allen Fieldhouse.

‘A guy you’d like to have a beer with’

Green: I really respect Coach Self …. He has the ideals of a normal Iowan. He grew up in Oklahoma. He’s just a good ol’ nice guy. When you see him behind the scenes, he’s funny, he’s engaging. He doesn’t big-time you. You know I’ve been around coaches and they’ve got the bravado and the ego and the crowns. Bill Self’s not that way ... I know he respects our program. I know fans have that hatred and they just don’t like him.

Peterson: You can say what you want to about Bill Self. He’s a Hall of Fame coach. Bill Self reached out to me when I broke my leg. It had nothing to do with the Kansas game obviously, it was against Iowa [in 2015]. It was a text message because I was in the hospital and pretty loopy. When I ran into him later in the season, we reached out and talked before the game. That was pretty cool.

Prohm: If [Self] does something well, I’ll shoot him a text. If we do something well, he’ll shoot me a text back. I thought it was really nice of him when we won at Allen Fieldhouse, he called me the next day and congratulated us and talked about how much respect he had for our senior class and this program.

Hoiberg: I have a very good relationship with Bill. My daughter actually went to Kansas and works for Bill a couple days a week so I’ve got a really good relationship.

Prohm: When he went into the Hall of Fame, we put a nice video tribute together. I just opened a letter from him today [Sept. 27] thanking us for sending him a note of congratulations for making the Hall of Fame, and also how much he appreciated and thought the video was first class.

Hoiberg: I was down at the Hall of Fame ceremony a couple weeks ago [Sept. 8]. I went out to visit Dwyane Wade, who was getting the humanitarian award, and I was able to spend some time with Bill and the Kansas coaches. It was fun, it was good to see him and it was a very well-deserved honor.

Green: He’s the guy you’d like to have a beer with cause he’s funny and he doesn’t have that ego like a lot of Hall of Fame coaches have.

Mutual respect

Peterson: While there’s a huge rivalry, there’s tremendous respect between the two programs. I don’t care who the Iowa State coach is or players, they go out of their way to compliment Kansas. And why wouldn’t you?

Green: Iowa State has four wins in Allen Fieldhouse since the 1996-97 season. Most teams have one.

Prohm: You want to compete against the best. Coach Self is a Hall of Famer. Kansas is one of the top-five programs of all time.

Iowa State fans hold up signs during ESPN's GameDay show on Jan. 17, 2015.
Photo by Kelby Winger/Iowa State Daily

Peterson: They made an announcement to the crowd after the game that this was Georges Niang’s last game at Kansas. They’d never done that before for an opponent. I remember Georges, after the game, he started crying. That shows you the respect there is among the two programs.

Prohm: That’s the thing, it’s a great rivalry, but you also want it to be a first-class rivalry by the way you handle yourself and the way you compete against them.  

New life to the rivalry

And though Iowa State comes in with a lot of new faces this year, it seems the rivalry will be just as serious.

Peterson: Donovan Jackson won’t let Lindell Wigginton, Terrence Lewis — whoever the newcomers are — he’ll inform them of how big this rivalry is. Solomon Young will. Those guys will let them know. And they’ll sense even before the game. Even Steve Prohm picks up his pace a little bit before Kansas games. So they’ll figure it out.

Perhaps the rivalry will even take on a new meaning for some.

Freshman point guard Lindell Wigginton: On my visit, everybody was like, ‘Forget Kansas, you gotta come here.’ Nobody likes Kansas. So I mean, I was kinda familiar with it. And everywhere I go, everybody’s like ‘Beat Kansas.’ It’s a fun rivalry and I look forward to playing in that game too.

Wigginton’s teammate from Oak Hill Academy, freshman forward Billy Preston, is set to play at Kansas this fall.

Wigginton: Yeah, we’re definitely gonna be talking trash to each other. We used to talk trash to each other in practice and everything, so we’ll definitely talk trash.

Prohm: It’s become a good rivalry and hopefully we can keep that.

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