LAWRENCE — A veteran of just one Sunflower Showdown held inside Bramlage Coliseum, Kansas basketball’s Ochai Agbaji nevertheless knows what to expect this go-round.
"They hate us, obviously," Agbaji said Thursday through a smile.
That may be truer now more than ever.
The top-ranked Jayhawks will play rival Kansas State at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Manhattan, the season’s second Sunflower Showdown tilt and the 293rd installment of a rivalry that dates back to 1907. The 292nd clash between the programs, an 81-60 victory for KU on Jan. 21 at Allen Fieldhouse, drew national headlines for all the wrong reasons — a brawl in the game’s final seconds spilled into the disabled seating section and resulted in the suspensions of two Jayhawks and two Wildcats.
Readying for the rematch, both sides downplayed the role the "Sunflower Throwdown" will play in Round 2.
"I wouldn’t say (it feels) different," Agbaji said. "I mean our team, we’re kind of focused a lot more winding down this last end of conference play. We knew we had to play them twice obviously, so we’re just taking that as any other road game on our schedule.
"I mean, it’s going to be a hostile environment. That’s how we get it everywhere. So we’re just kind of seeing it as that."
Winners of 13 straight games, the Jayhawks (25-3, 14-1 Big 12) are 8-1 in true road contests this season, the most recent triumph a 64-61 victory over then-No. 1 Baylor on Feb. 22 in Waco, Texas.
"I expect it will be great just like it always is when we go over there (to Manhattan)," said KU coach Bill Self. "I don’t think there’ll be anything to take away from that, so certainly just like when we played at Waco or play at most of our visiting venues, I think the crowd is usually pretty turned up, and I’m sure that will be the case Saturday."
The Wildcats (9-19, 2-13) have gone into a tailspin since that Jan. 21 outcome — that defeat was the first in a stretch that has seen K-State drop 11 of its last 12 contests.
K-State's Xavier Sneed said "everything's in the past now" when it comes to the brawl with the Jayhawks, a comment teammate Makol Mawien echoed.
"It's nothing to worry about," Mawien said. "It's all forgotten about and we're just worried about the game plan and how to move forward. That's it."
K-State head coach Bruce Weber said he’ll "definitely remind" his players that they are there to play basketball Saturday and instruct them to keep their emotions in check.
"Like I said after the game, act right, play the game with class win or lose, and that’s the biggest thing," Weber said. "Any little incident we’ve had since then, a rebound tussle or whatever, we’ve always brought it up to them, ‘Hey, we don’t need problems now.’ We’ve got to worry about ourselves and our game and getting better, and we don’t need anything else."
The last contest ended in at least a metaphorical black eye for both programs.
Dribbling out the clock in the final seconds of the lopsided victory, Jayhawk junior forward Silvio De Sousa had the ball stripped from him by DaJuan Gordon. But De Sousa recovered to chase down and block Gordon’s layup attempt from behind, sending the Wildcat freshman guard to the court in a heap and Allen Fieldhouse into a frenzy.
But De Sousa couldn’t leave well enough alone. He hovered over Gordon for several seconds, and K-State’s Antonio Gordon took issue, leaping into the frame and shoving De Sousa backward and away from his teammate. More pushes were exchanged, and after De Sousa appeared to throw the first punch, inactive Wildcat redshirt junior forward James Love engaged with De Sousa, the two appearing to throw punches at one another.
KU’s David McCormack then rushed Love, who had tumbled to the ground in the mayhem, though it wasn’t clear whether the two engaged physically. The lasting image of the fracous was De Sousa brandishing a metal stool, though cooler heads prevailed and De Sousa dropped the object before swinging it at anyone.
The Big 12 dropped the hammer on the teams the next day, suspending De Sousa (12 games), Love (eight games), Antonio Gordon (three games) and McCormack (two games). And the incident didn’t go without injury: KU video coordinator Jeremy Case broke his right arm after taking an awkward fall while trying to break up the fight.
"It was not great for Kansas, not good for K-State, not good for college basketball, but we move forward," Weber said. "We've got a chance to play in a special environment Saturday against a really good team on national TV, and what more can you ask for?"
De Sousa will remain suspended until KU’s regular-season finale, a March 7 tilt at Texas Tech.
"He’s been practicing and he’s actually doing great," Self said of De Sousa. "His attitude is good. His attitude is always good. He certainly had a bad moment, but his attitude is good. Certainly he’s contributing in every way he possibly can now with the limitations that’s been put on him."
Regardless of whether the players have truly moved on from the Jan. 21 incident, Saturday’s rematch should be good theater if only for the spectacle of what should be one of college basketball’s most juiced environments. Agbaji, whose Jayhawks fell 74-67 to the Wildcats last season in his first taste of the "Octagon of Doom," is more than familiar with the passion of the K-State fan base — that is, at least when it comes to hating their in-state nemesis.
"Everything from when we ran out there the first time to warm up, they were just booing," Agbaji recalled. "So you know how it’s going to be this time. We’re going to get a lot of boos, a lot of jeers, everything. We know what to expect, so we’re ready for that."