|Haven't broken this photo out for awhile. Feels good. |
The Missouri Tigers
have only lost two games this year; one to a Kansas State
team which simply bullied them all over the floor, surprising the Tigers into losing their composure, and one to Oklahoma State
. The Oklahoma State loss was a true trap game, a contest against a lesser opponent coming off a huge, important, emotional win.
The win in question was the Tigers' victory over Baylor in Waco in late January, and they laid a mighty egg in their trip to Stillwater four days later. The defensive effort in particular was sorely lacking, and against an offense as talented as the Cowboys' that's a recipe for disaster. Oklahoma State shot almost 60% from the floor, and the Tigers simply couldn't counter, losing 79-72.
Well, it was time for a rematch last night, and Missouri played significantly better this time. Okay, that's a bit of an understatement. They played really good. Okay, that's still a bit of an understatement, and poor grammar to boot. Mizzou went straight-up Ezekiel 25:17
on Oklahoma State last night.
Yeah, that works.
Don't be fooled by the 18-point deficit in the box score; the game wasn't anywhere near that close. The Tigers pushed their lead as far as 35 points at one time; the last five minutes of the game were played mostly sans starters.
This was, quite possibly, the single most complete, impressive win of the season for the Tigers. Every aspect of Mizzou's game worked almost flawlessly, from the transition game to the shooting touch displayed by several Tigers in building the lead to the defense, which was stifling for the whole time the outcome was still in question.
- Michael Dixon is the best sixth man in the country, and it's really a shame the NCAA doesn't have a Sixth Man of the Year award the way the NBA does. Dixon was lights-out shooting again last night, and was the single biggest reason the Tigers were able to build such a commanding (22 point), lead by halftime.
- Early on it looked as if Marcus Denmon was going to be a non-factor in this one. His run to begin the second half, though, was really the nail in the coffin for Oklahoma State. They simply had no answer for Denmon's scoring burst, and by the time he was done the game was out of reach.
- The player of the game, to me at least, might actually have been Kim English. English's stat line for the night was solid but not outstanding: 13 points, 2 assists and a pair of rebounds. But what English did on the defensive end far outweighed what he contributed on offense. He guarded Oklahoma State's ultra-talented freshman Le'Bryan Nash all night, held Nash to 11 points, and helped force him to the bench early in the first half after Nash picked up his second foul. The first time Mizzou played the Cowboys this year Nash went off for 27; the job English did guarding him cannot be oversold.
- Ricardo Ratliffe needed a bounceback game following a tough performance against Baylor; he got it with a nine rebound performance in the first half that just might have been as important as Dixon's pyrotechnics. The bad news: Ratliffe's shooting percentage for the year has fallen below the single-season record number. He's going to need an 8 of 9 game somewhere along the line to try and pull that percentage back up.
- All teams play better at home; it's just one of those quirks of sports that persists no matter how irrational the explanation. But Mizzou doesn't just play better, they dominate at home. It would be huge -- beyond huge, really -- for the Tigers to pull the St. Louis regional draw come tournament time.
Nearly everything went right for Missouri, but they also helped things go right. They shot absurdly well, particularly in the early going, but they were taking smart shots, too, which makes all the difference in the world. Defense is as much about want-to as it is skill, and the Tigers showed as much want-to as they have all year. Stat of the night: Oklahoma State shot less than 36% from the field in the first half. That's how you put a game away early.
The win also made this current group of Tiger seniors the winningest in the history of the program with 101 victories. That's an awfully impressive number, and a credit to what Mike Anderson built. The way he left was a little ugly, but there's no denying the success his team has had. Strange that it took another coach coming in to bring the Tigers their greatest gains.