Durant’s appearance in Lawrence still remembered

Mario Chalmers loved playing against Texas.

He scored a career-high 30 points against the Longhorns in the 2008 Big 12 championship game.

He hit arguably the biggest shot in Kansas basketball history with his three-pointer against Memphis in the 2008 National Championship game.

But a game that might get overlooked is one where he and Kansas won their 1,900th game and fourth consecutive conference against the Texas Longhorns by a score of 90-86.

Texas' Kevin Durant shoots over Kansas forward Julian Wright in the first half of the game in Allen Fieldhouse Saturday. Durant, a freshman, scored 25 points in the first half. He finished with 32 points after leaving the game for a few minutes in the second half with an ankle injury.

Texas’ Kevin Durant shoots over Kansas forward Julian Wright in the first half of the game in Allen Fieldhouse Saturday. Durant, a freshman, scored 25 points in the first half. He finished with 32 points after leaving the game for a few minutes in the second half with an ankle injury. Photo by: Anna Faltermeier

Why is this game memorable? Because the Jayhawks played Kevin Durant that day.

On March 3, 2007, Durant stepped into Lawrence with the same professionalism and confidence that he shows most games while playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Kansas coach Bill Self remembers the game, particularly the first half.

“We probably defended him above average, and he probably got 25 in that first half. It was one of those days when he could’ve got 35 or 40 in a half.

“Even Danny (Manning) on the bench said, ‘That’s a bad man. That’s the baddest man to play here.’”

Another astute observer of the game that day was Brady McCollough, one of the University beat writers for the Kansas City Star.

At that time, McCollough was just starting to cover the Jayhawks. This was one of the first games he covered inside Allen Fieldhouse.

For him, the first half was bigger than your everyday impressive performance.

“That was definitely the best half that anyone has ever played in Allen Fieldhouse in at least the six years I had been watching games—and it’s not even close,” he said recently in an interview.

McCollough remembers writing a story about Durant’s performance in that game, but more than anything he remembers the reaction from the Kansas fans.

“You’re used to seeing at KU, in the big games at Allen, the crowd, and the KU defense and Bill Self’s man-to-man defense teams just stifling them and taking them out of their rhythm, beating by 10, 15, even 20 points in the first half.

“And here Durant is totally unfazed by it, loving it. And you could tell he loved being at Allen Fieldhouse, and he respected the venue. He’s just drilling shots in people’s faces and the crowd, it starts with an ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and by the end of the first half the place was quiet.

“Gary Amble, the morning meteorologist for KCTV-5, was at the game as a fan. A longtime Jayhawk supporter since graduating from the University in 1987, he experienced a variety of emotions that day in the Fieldhouse.

“I know my wife was getting a little upset because he couldn’t miss, but I said, ‘You know what, just enjoy it because this is something you never get to see.’ I think even to this day he would probably have to remember because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player do that before,” Amble said.

To put the first half in perspective, here’s some numbers from that day:

Durant led the Longhorns on an 18-4 run, including a stretch where he scored 12 straight points.

He scored the most points in a single half by a KU opponent since Texas Tech’s Rayford Young put up 35 on Feb. 13, 1999.

His ten field goals were the most made in a half against Kansas since Pepperdine’s Gerald Brown made 10 on Dec. 18, 1997.

Julian Wright, a sophomore forward at the time, drew the assignment of guarding Durant for most of the first half.

“All you can do is contest,” Wright said after the game in 2007. “Coach was telling us to make him put it on the ground and stay on him.  We threw a lot of guys on him to try to give him some different looks.  He’s a great player and has a bright future.”

Durant might have had a great first half; the second half was a different story.

After trailing by 14 points, Kansas went on a 22-6 run in the first four minutes of the second half, and eventually gained a 64-61 lead.

A few big plays by senior center Sasha Kaun and junior forward Brandon Rush predicated this comeback, but it was two big shots by Chalmers that ended up leading the Jayhawks to the eventual victory.

In fact, he hit two shots from almost exactly the same spot on Naismith Court. One was at the 16:40 mark, the other with 11:50 remaining in the game.

Tully Corcoran, a former Kansas basketball beat writer for the Topeka-Capitol Journal, remembers it as one of the first times Chalmers displayed his ability to hit clutch shots against the Longhorns.

“He always did that against Texas,” Corcoran said. “He was like the UT-killer.”

The game appeared to be turning into a shootout: two dueling future NBA players leading their teams.

But Durant’s magical game took an unfortunate turn when he twisted his ankle with 11:20 remaining in the game.

Durant was driving through the lane, just as he had several other times throughout the game, but this he landed funny and the ankle turned.

Durant’s father, Wayne Pratt, was at the game that day and remembers it changing the momentum of the game.

“I think it did a little bit,” Pratt said in an interview last week. “I think Kansas also played better defense in the second half. They just changed up, and their defensive intensity was a lot more.

“I do believe him twisting his ankle took his aggressiveness away a little bit, too, because it was still sore and when I came down to check on him, he was still hopping around a little bit. I don’t think he was as aggressive.”

When Durant returned to the game a few minutes later and walked out of the tunnel, something unprecedented happened.

This is how Self remembers it:

“The thing that was cool was after he goes back to get retaped after he tweaked his ankle, our fans gave him an ovation when he came back out. Where else in college basketball would you see that?”

Still, the Jayhawks took advantage of Durant’s bum ankle by also switching the defensive assignment to sophomore Brandon Rush. This, combined with the ankle injury, limited him to seven points in the second half.

“In the second half he started going a little cold,” Rush said after the game in 2007. “He wasn’t taking as many shots as he did in the first half, but I think we did a pretty good job on him in the second half.  He’s the best I’ve ever faced in my life.  He’s the best by far.”
Once the Jayhawks took control of the game, they never gave it up.

Kansas went on to win its fourth consecutive Big 12 regular season title. Kansas also became only the second team at that time to have 1,900 victories in the history of their program.

After the game, Durant was sitting in a chair in the hallway outside the Texas Longhorns’ locker room. Reporters surrounded him to answer questions, and Durant politely obliged.

At this point he was disappointed that he could not accomplish the feat of not only beating Kansas, but also beating Kansas and winning in this historic building.

McCollough was one of those reporters interviewing him.

“He probably realized at that point that there was a reason he was so revved up to play in Allen Fieldhouse because it’s the type of venue that can overcome the most amazing of opponent’s feats just with it’s kind of magic and aura,” McCollough said. “That’s definitely one of those days when you didn’t feel like Kansas won the game; you felt like the Fieldhouse won that game.”

There have been a few games in the past where the Fieldhouse did win the game, but none of them compared to the performance of Durant that day.

The conference title didn’t matter. The 1,900th win didn’t matter. Not even Mario Chalmers scoring 21 points and going 5-for-5 from 3-point range and showing off for his clutch shooting ability for one of the first times at Kansas mattered.

No this day will always be about Durant. And it will always be remembered that way.

“It was like everybody knew that they were watching greatness that afternoon,” Self said. “It was a fabulous performance by Kevin, and certainly a game that fans will talk about for years to come.”

  • Updated Feb. 15, 2013 at 9:29 am
  • Edited by Brian Sisk