LAWRENCE — The mutual hatred between Kansas and Missouri runs deep on both sides, and for one half, that was enough to fuel some electric basketball between the long-time border rivals on Monday night.
But, in a familiar refrain for the Tigers, the Jayhawks' bench was way deeper — a factor that helped KU weather an early MU storm and pull away late with a hair-raising 103-86 victory.
KU reserves Mario Little and Travis Releford scored 17 and 10 points, respectively, showing off the luxurious roster that KU coach Bill Self lives with on a daily basis. And KU headliner Marcus Morris poured in 17 of his game-high 22 points in the second half to help create some space from the feisty Tigers, who trailed just 46-42 at the half.
Eight Kansas players scored at least eight points, and the Jayhawks, now 23-1 and 8-1 in the Big 12, eclipsed the century mark for the first time this season in the league.
"When you've got guys that come off the bench and do what these guys did tonight," Morris said, "it makes us one of the deepest teams in the country."
What more could Missouri, now 18-6 and 4-5 in the Big 12, done on Monday? The Tigers shot 52 percent from the field and made 18 of 22 free throws (82 percent), and it still wasn't enough to approach MU coach Mike Anderson's first win here. Odds are, the Tigers won't be content with simply having made the game a treat to watch.
The Tigers were hot from the floor early, jumping out to a 20-14 lead, but they were also outmuscling Kansas inside, which was a bit of a surprise considering KU's Morris twins were supposed to give them a clear advantage. With just over 12 minutes remaining in the first half, the Jayhawks still hadn't secured a defensive rebound.
MU was not going to back down this time in Allen, where Anderson's teams had lost four times by an average of 16.5 points. The Jayhawks would have to take a barrage of early punches, and they would not have the talent and competitiveness of freshman guard Josh Selby (out with an injured right foot) to help them. When Tyrel Reed left the game with two fouls at the 10:22 mark, the Jayhawks were suddenly truly handcuffed.
Self answered by going to a bigger lineup with three of Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Thomas Robinson and Mario Little in the game together.
The biggest boost came from the senior Little, who has been a quiet contributor since returning from a six-game suspension stemming from a Dec. 16 arrest for misdemeanor battery, criminal trespass and criminal damage to property.
Little, one of the most natural scorers on the roster with a strong mid-range game, had only one double-digit performance since returning (10 points at Baylor). But on Monday night, he got going early and continued to test just how hot he was. Little had 12 first half-points and got some help from Markieff Morris, who had 10. Kansas led just 46-42 at halftime.
That KU scored 46 first-half points with just five coming from Marcus Morris was a testament to how good Little and the rest of the Jayhawks were. Morris arrived fashionably late to the party, though, scoring eight of KU's first 10 points in the second half and leading the Jayhawks to a 56-46 lead with 16:14 left.
"Coach told me at halftime, 'Play like an All-American. Play like people expect you to play,' " Morris said. "I just went out there and tried to play hard, and (Little and Releford) backed me up. They continued what they did in the first half."
Kansas put the game away with Little driving baseline and passing to Thomas Robinson for a one-handed dunk, and Little and Releford hitting back-to-back threes to give KU a 75-60 lead.