LAWRENCE, Kan. -- They've been playing basketball around here for some 100-odd years, dating back to a head coach who earlier in his life had decided putting a ball in a peach basket would make for a good sport.
So in this age of short-term memory and knee-jerk reactions, to even ponder if this, No. 1 Kansas' 109-106 triple-overtime win over No. 2 Oklahoma on Monday, was the best one played in the hallowed halls of Allen Fieldhouse, seems borderline blasphemous.
But . . . what if it was? There has never been a triple-overtime game played here, never one to go more than two extra stanzas.
And there has been only one other three-overtime game played between a No. 1 and No. 2 team in Division I history. That was back in 1957, when a guy named Wilt suited up for Kansas in a national championship game against North Carolina, down the highway at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri.
So what if? What if it was the one? What if the basketball gods sprinkled their pixie dust, the stars aligned to look like the Jerry West logo, or whatever mystical thing it is that you believe in actually occurred, and basketball magic happened?
Not just the right game, but also the right game in the right place?
"I don't know that I've ever been a part of one better,'' Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said.
The man has been around for a while; he played and coached in the Big Eight, coached at just about every rung on the coaching ladder. He knows of big games.
So maybe this was it then, the best. It certainly felt that way. How many times does a game get hyped, only to fall into the dreaded dud of all duds? (Here's hoping the college football gods are hard at work to make sure Alabama's football team doesn't do its dud-making damnedest in a few days.)
Because usually hype is just that, overblown blowharding, a buildup that never quite reaches a crescendo. And frankly, sometimes overtime games mask regulation dullards, the extra periods serving as needed doses of amnesia.
This game was simply great, from tip to buzzer. Epic comebacks and big plays, too many heroes to count, all packed into a gym that can create atmosphere even against the likes of Pittsburg State. Back in 1992, Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan walked into the media room after Christian Laettner hit the buzzer-beater for Duke against Kentucky and declared: "We're not worthy." Same holds true here. Kansas once led by 11, Oklahoma stretched its advantage to as many as 10. Regulation ended with a controversial foul call but two missed free throws, and the first overtime was knotted by trading 3-pointers.
Here's all you need to know: Buddy Hield scored 46 points on 23 shots and played 54 minutes out of a possible 55. From halftime on, Frank Mason III defended him about as well as you can -- and he still scored 24 more. "If Frank hadn't defended him, he would have gone for 60,'' Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Hield was so good -- his shots a combination of sweet swish and circus acrobatics -- that the Kansas fans gave him a standing ovation when he left the court. When asked if he'd seen that happen before, Self laughed: "Yeah, with Kevin Durant.''
And yet Hield somehow isn't the hero.
The hero turned out to be a guy who shot 5-for-20 and whose own coach said he didn't grade out terribly well.
Mason won the game with his wits. The sidelines at Allen aren't roomy, players forced to inbound with little space to maneuver. With eight seconds left, as Hield lined up to toss the ball in, the officials cautioned Mason to push back the requisite three feet. He obliged but as soon as the official handed the ball over, Mason took a step in, knowing no one would whistle him for it.
Self actually coaches that, a little bit of home-court gamesmanship that he figures might come in handy at some point.
When Hield made the toss, Mason got a finger flick on it, passing the ball essentially back to himself. He drove to the rim, went up and was fouled.
"I went all in on the deny,'' Mason said. "I got a deflection and the steal. Craziest game I've ever been a part of.''
Mason sank the free throws and Hield's last 3-pointer of the night, the 15th that he launched in the game, came up short.
"I wish I had one more 3 in the tank,'' he said.
Instead, his miss started the frenzy, more cathartic than celebration. The fans here line up outside of the Kansas locker room after every game, gathering behind the blue ropes. Armed with Sharpies and balls or posters to sign, they're just as happy to offer up a "good game" shoutout when their heroes emerge.
It took a special effort to wait the Jayhawks out here. It was nearing 11:30 p.m. CT by the time the players started to walk out, leaving all but a few dedicated folks to greet them. The fans seemed almost as wrung out as the players, emotionally spent from a game that not only did no one leave, no one really sat down.
"I'm exhausted,'' one woman said to a friend.
And the crazy part: We're just getting started. In the grand scheme of things, this game doesn't mean anything, or at least not yet. No one is going to the Final Four tomorrow, no one is going anywhere except to a much-deserved day off. The Big 12 hasn't been won or lost. Kansas is merely 13-1, Oklahoma 12-1.
These two teams will tango again on Feb. 13 in Norman, Oklahoma. Hield already is looking forward to it. So are the Jayhawks.
"We'll be ready,'' Devonte' Graham said.
There are miles to go between then and now, not to mention the long road that still stretches all the way to Houston and the national championship game.
"Jan. 4 is too early for a game like this,'' said Self, just as the calendar was about to flip to Jan. 5.
Then again, when the magical mysticism of basketball aligns itself to create a bit of poetry, who cares what the calendar says?