Thomas Robinson stood silent outside the Jayhawk’s locker room — not even the bright lights and microphones of the news crews that engulfed the 20-year old could rattle him.
The 71-74 loss to Missouri was so new it consumed and muted the junior, and yet he had no choice but to relive the game through interrogation.
“This looked like an emotional game for you,” One reporter commented.
“Thomas, what’d you change in the second half?” another beckoned.
More silence, until finally.
“I didn’t want to lose to them,” Robinson muttered, repeating the words over and over with the onset of shock that he even had to.
And yet, while the focus may have been on the last time Kansas and Missouri would trade punches in Mizzou Arena, the Washington D.C. native had a different mind set — one that had to do with not just shutting up the crowd in Columbia, but in Waco, Ames, Manhattan, Lubbock, Austin, College Station, Norman, and Stillwater.
“We’ve got to win the conference,” Robinson mumbled.
He didn’t say it as a mission statement so much as a fact— one that had been on the Jayhawks mind’s since Bill Self’s boot camp, and on fans much longer than that — and as Robinson let the words slink out of his mouth it was evident he grasped that nothing else — barring a final four trip — would be able to make up for such a failure.
But that is the territory that comes with winning seven straight Big 12 titles — the knowledge of the next one being all the more important.
Since Robinson’s birth in March, 1990 Kansas had lost to the Tigers 12 out of 46 times in route to 16 conference titles, five Final Four’s, and one National Championship. Missouri wasn’t a rival to him; it was a pit stop down a much longer road.
So when Robinson was on the court for loss number 13 he wasn’t pissed about how this would effect the already out of balance lasting record, it was Missouri being tied with Kansas atop the Big 12 standings that put him in disbelief.
As much as this is Tyshawn Taylor’s team Robinson is Taylor’s warrior, and the “Player of the Year” candidate will have the finger pointing at him as much as anybody else.
So why should he care if 171-94 became 171-95? No one gives out rings midseason, and while Missouri students are proudly displaying the final score on their newly printed T-shirts, Robinson is looking to display diamonds.
So what if it was the last time the two schools meet in Tiger territory? Rivalries come and go — so do players, coaches, and fans — but the banners in Allen Fieldhouse hang forever, and Robinson doesn’t want to leave Lawrence without adding at least one more of his own.
“Thomas, did the better team win tonight?” another reporter questioned.
“No,” Robinson replied sternly, “We blew that game.”
– Blake Schuster