COLUMBIA, Mo. In the moments after Missouri clinched its first victory over his team in three years, junior forward Thomas Robinson hunched over and dipped his head toward the court.
He had finished with a team-high 25 points and 13 rebounds in Kansas' 74-71 loss Saturday at Mizzou Arena. But another consistent performance for the national player-of-the-year frontrunner was little consolation in the moments after the Tigers created a tie atop the Big 12 Conference between Kansas, Baylor and Missouri.
A celebration among the 15,061 in attendance was underway, and Robinson turned around and began a slow walk toward a tunnel. For most of the second half, he had looked like the nation's best inside presence: Nineteen of his points came after halftime, and he matched a season-high field-goal total (11) first achieved in an 18-point victory over Baylor on Jan. 16.
With time, he disappeared from the court, parts of which were covered with white confetti. Missouri senior guard Marcus Denmon outplayed him Saturday, scoring a game-high 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting to push the Tigers to their best home victory of their surprising season. Still, Robinson produced in defeat: It was his second consecutive game of at least 20 points and his eighth 20-plus point scoring performance overall.
Later, when asked about Robinson, Missouri coach Frank Haith said he was pleased with how his post players, Steve Moore and Ricardo Ratliffe, tried to limit the 6-foot-10, 237-pound Washington, D.C., native in the paint area. Haith knew containing Robinson would be difficult.
"We didn't want him to go one-on-one, obviously," Haith said. "But when they put four shooters out there, it was very difficult for us to double him. We didn't want him to face us up where he would go on us. He's a great player. He's going to do that a lot of nights."
Robinson's physical style has made him a standout talent, and it is more of a surprise when he struggles to meet an elite standard like he did during the first half Saturday night. Haith said Missouri's strategy keyed on limiting Robinson's ability to face the basket with little resistance.
The scheme worked early. The Jayhawks relied on production from senior guard Tyshawn Taylor, who finished with 21 points, to keep their deficit to five by halftime.
But Robinson's strong second half was more consistent with the skill he has shown throughout the season. He scored Kansas' first five points after the break during a 91-second stretch that included two layups, a free throw, a steal and an offensive rebound.
By the end, he finished 11-of-17 shooting from the floor.
"Thomas played his butt off," Kansas coach Bill Self said, "so it's hard to fault the guy for trying."
Despite the Jayhawks' loss Saturday, Robinson remains a favorite to capture national player-of-the-year honors. His output against Missouri was the best since he scored 27 points in the victory over Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse. In addition, it continued his upward trend: He scored 20 in a victory over Oklahoma last Wednesday to recover after less effective outings against Texas (17), Texas A&M (18) and Iowa State (13) over the past two weeks.
"One thing that should give us a little confidence," Self said, "is knowing when we play a certain way we play inside out and do some things, that we're pretty good. Thomas made some hard shots in the second half."
Robinson did just that, and it raised his team-high scoring average to 18 points per game. Entering Saturday, he also ranked near the top of several national categories. Before playing Missouri, he was second in rebounding with an average of 12 per game, trailing only Siena's O.D. Anosike. He also was tied for second in double-doubles with 15. (He earned his 16th on Saturday by gathering 13 rebounds to complement his team-best scoring total.)
"Thomas he had it going," Missouri senior guard Kim English said. "He was feeling it."
If Robinson's touch continues, Kansas' schedule in the next three weeks presents a chance for him to strengthen his case for national player-of-the-year honors. The Jayhawks travel to Baylor on Wednesday before playing middling Big 12 competition such as Oklahoma State (Feb. 11), Kansas State (Feb. 13), Texas Tech (Feb. 18) and Texas A&M (Feb. 22). Then, on Feb. 25, Missouri arrives for its final trip to Allen Fieldhouse prior to joining the Southeastern Conference. Afterward, Kansas closes the regular season by traveling to Oklahoma State (Feb. 27) and hosting Texas (March 3).
Those tests will help determine if the national player-of-the-year favorite can end the season as the country's best. Before he left Mizzou Arena on Saturday, though, Robinson greeted a small group of Kansas fans near the Jayhawks locker room. They exchanged hugs, and Robinson signed autographs. Little was said.
For Robinson, the result against the Jayhawks' archrival was disappointing. But like so many games before it, he had carried Kansas late.