Friday, March 30, 2007

1993-94 Redux: Missouri 109, Wisconsin 96

(Brush the dust off of Marlo Finner!)

March 19, 1994

OGDEN, Utah -- It's tough to get a read on just how the Wisconsin Badgers really feel about their opponent tonight, top-seeded Missouri, in West Region NCAA Tournament play.

Soon after beating eighth-seeded Cincinnati on Thursday night, Badger coach Stu Jackson was trumpeting the Big Ten. When the possibility of Missouri joining the Big Ten was mentioned to him, Jackson responded, in a mock voice, “Gee, I hope they don't.”

In the locker room, Wisconsin freshman center Rashard Griffith said the Badgers would have won the Big Eight. Wisconsin, the No. 9 seed in the West, finished seventh in the 11-member Big Ten at 8-10. The Badgers are 10-0 outside the conference.

When asked about the Tigers' strengths at yesterday's news conference, players Tracy Webster, Michael Finley and Andy Kilbride were silent for more than 10 seconds. A huge grin spread across Kilbride's face.

Webster, Wisconsin's point guard, finally produced an answer.”Overall, they have a great team,” finally came Kilbride's response. “They're very well-coached, and they have a bench that can come off and score a lot of points. They can defend, and they can rebound.”

On the record, the Badgers did not bait the Tigers (26-3). “Obviously playing against a team as great as they are, it's an enormous challenge for us,” Jackson said.

But conference pride, which seems almost an outmoded concept in this era of expansion, is obviously on the table here.

“The Big Ten is the best conference in the country, period,” Jackson said. “From a coaching standpoint, from a lot of different areas. I would argue that to the hilt. It's the best basketball conference in the country.

“It has great teams, it has great players, more great players and Hall of Fame coaches. The Big Eight is a great conference in its own right, but I just really feel fortunate to be part of what I think is the best basketball conference in the country. That's one of the reasons I took the job at Wisconsin.”

In his second year there, Jackson has produced Wisconsin's first entry in the NCAA Tournament since 1947. That, coupled with the Badgers' long-awaited Rose Bowl victory, already has made this an unforgettable year in Wisconsin sports.

The Badgers had their backs up before playing Cincinnati, a team many had penciled into the second round and beyond.

Jackson does not expect the team to be swept away with what it has accomplished.

“I really think they want to go ahead and try to do it again,” Jackson said. “What's happened different this year than in previous years is not a real factor with them. They just want to go out and win games.”

Wisconsin has not won two games in a row since early January.

MU freshman Kelly Thames was willing to play the word games with Griffith, at least a little.

Asked where the Tigers would have finished in the Big Ten, Thames replied, “I'd probably say first. I'm just saying that because I'm pretty confident in this ballclub, and I think we could do well in the Big Ten.”

The Big Ten team in this matchup will be bigger than the Big Eight team at center. Griffith is 6-foot-11, 265 pounds. At 6-9, Crudup is used to this sort of thing, having played bulky 7-footers Bryant Reeves and Greg Ostertag.

“I don't think size will be a factor,” Crudup said. “It will come down to who bangs who the most and who wants it the most.”

“At the same time, Griffith has to guard him, too,” MU coach Norm Stewart said. “They do present a lot of problems. Hopefully we'll present some.”

Either the Tigers or Badgers are running into their final set of problems for this season.

Webster compared the conference season to a pre-test before the all-important final exam. “We just want to go in and hopefully pass,” he said.
March 20, 1994

OGDEN, Utah -- Here's an NCAA Tournament trip for Missouri that everyone can be proud of. The Tigers (27-3) advanced to the West Region semifinals Thursday in Los Angeles with a 109-96 victory over ninth-seeded Wisconsin.

Missouri, the top seed in the West, is making its best NCAA Tournament showing since 1989, when it went to the Midwest Region semifinals in Minneapolis. The Tigers were beaten there by Syracuse, the team they will play on Thursday.

“We wouldn't mind if the Sweet 16 is in Beirut,” Missouri guard Julian Winfield said. “We don't care where it is, we would go.”

The first-person plural really applied for the Tigers. Coach Norm Stewart used 12 players in the first half, and they made good use of the time.

Missouri scored 54 first-half points, a season high. They added a season-high 55 in the second half. The 109 total also is a season high, topping the 108 Missouri scored in a triple-overtime victory over Illinois.

Melvin Booker scored a career-high 35 points. He was 11 of 14 from the field, including a career-best six three-pointers.

“I was just feeling good,” Booker said. “I felt the ball pretty much like I did the last 10 minutes of the Kansas game.” Booker scored his previous high, 32, at Kansas this year.

“We really didn't have an answer at all for Booker, who really might be the second-best player we've played against all year,” Wisconsin coach Stu Jackson said. Presumably, consensus player of the year Glenn Robinson of Purdue is No. 1 on Jackson's list. “He's just a tremendous player.”

Unlike so many of Missouri's previous NCAA Tournament appearances and their games of the last few weeks, the Tigers got off to a flying start.

The Tigers tore out to a 10-2 lead, sparked by Booker's defensive pressure and drives to the basket.

“I just wanted to come out from the start very aggressive,” Booker said.

After Wisconsin tied the game at 2-2, Missouri led the rest of the way.

With both teams' centers in early foul predicaments, the emphasis shifted to the perimeter.

Wisconsin's Michael Finley, a 6-foot-6 forward, scored a game-high 36 points. He made 13 of 14 free throws. The Badgers took 37 three-point shots and made 15. Missouri was 12 of 19. The 27 three-pointers made in the game was a new tournament record.

Paul O'Liney, back from a one-game suspension, scored a season-high 23 points. He made two of three three-point attempts and 13 of 17 free throws.

“I came in with fresh legs, and I was ready to go,” O'Liney said. “At tournament time, you're going to win or you're going to lose. If you lose, you're going to go home, and I ain't ready to go home.”

Mark Atkins, who was scoreless against Navy in Missouri's first-round victory on Thursday, scored 16 points in 18 minutes.

Missouri's bench scored 54 points.

“I'm happy everyone got to see the real Missouri team play,” Stewart said. “We had great help off the bench again.”

Wisconsin's Tracy Webster led all the three-point shooters, making seven of 13. He scored 27 points.

But inside the arc, Missouri had too much for the Badgers (18-11).

“I really think the key to our loss was due to the fact that we really didn't have an answer for their ability to penetrate the paint,” Jackson said.

Webster and Booker tied for the assist leadership with seven each.

Missouri took its largest first-half lead at 34-18.

Helped by two points resulting from a technical foul on the Missouri bench, Wisconsin closed to 42-40 on a three-pointer by Webster. O'Liney then personally put Missouri up 49-42. He made a two-shot foul, then two of three free throws when fouled on a three-point try, then hit a three-pointer.

Wisconsin got back to within 51-47 before Booker launched a three-pointer to end the first-half scoring with Missouri up 54-47.
March 20, 1994

OGDEN, Utah -- Behemoth vs. Behemoth never developed.

The big men for Missouri and Wisconsin -- MU's 6-foot-9 Jevon Crudup and UW's 6-11 Rashard Griffith -- spent most of last night in foul trouble. Crudup's time in the penalty box came about two minutes into this second-round NCAA Tournament game after he collected Foul 2. So coach Norm Stewart turned and without hesitating summoned ... Marlo Finner?

Yes, 6-6, 230-pound Marlo Finner, who has been Crudup's relief man much of the season. No surprise that he would relieve him now, except that Finner gives up five inches and 35 pounds to Griffith, the wonder-freshman and fellow Chicagoan. None of which seemed to matter once Finner took the floor and pulled off some of the biggest plays in Missouri's 109-96 victory.

Finner, who missed last week's Big Eight Tournament on an academic suspension by Stewart, capped a critical first two NCAA Tournament games by scoring a season-high 13 points and stabbing five rebounds. Thursday against Navy, he nailed a pair of three-pointers.

But the box score did not list his two most important plays. They don't keep stats for fouls drawn.

Within 40 seconds of entering the game, Finner penetrated the lane. His shot fell through the net, and he was fouled. By Griffith.

Little more than a minute later, Finner snaked almost directly under the basket, where he plucked the ball from the air, laid it in and drew the foul. From Griffith.

For all intents and purposes, that second foul qualified as a technical knockout because Griffith sat the next eight minutes.

Wisconsin has some good players, but don't underestimate Griffith. The Badgers hail from the black-and-blue Big Ten, and he's their physical presence. Even as a freshman he's played a significant role.

Griffith finished with six points, five rebounds and four fouls in 16 minutes. Only once this season has he scored or played less than last night. And he was coming off a 22-point, 15-rebound manhandling of Cincinnati in the first round.

Getting Griffith in foul trouble “was my big thing because I knew he was going to post up real big,” Finner said. “There was no way I could actually stop him.”

Finner knew from experience that he would have to play smart against Griffith. They've played on Chicago summer-league teams against each other, and their Chicago high schools played each other when Griffith was a freshman and Finner was a senior.

“I was the biggest guy on my team, so I just took him outside and faked him,” Finner recalled. “I held my own.

“Growing up in Chicago you've got to be aggressive if you're going to play basketball. My dad started me out working inside, but I also can go out on the perimeter. I'm only about 6-5, 6-6, so I know how to be a guard at this level. I worked on my all-around skills and luckily I had a chance to show it.”

OK, sure, we know Finner averaged 30 points in high school and was one of the top two or three recruits to come out of the city in 1990. In his role with the Tigers, it's improbable that he'll score 30 points again. And he can contribute off the bench -- but against a redwood tree?

“It's nothing that I've never seen Marlo do,” Crudup said. “Marlo basically got him out from the goal and was taking him to the hole, taking him off the dribble, and that's Marlo's game.”

Marlo's game has been a catch-it-when-you-can prospect for fans since the middle of the Big Eight season. After six double-digit games in minutes, he played no more than seven in any of the last six games.

Then came last week's suspension for what he says was a shortcoming with “classwork here and there.”

“Naturally, I was a little upset not going to the Big Eight, but I knew I had to suffer the consequences,” Finner said. “But just like all year long, I had to keep myself motivated and whenever I get a chance be ready.”

Finner only played 11 minutes. He left late in the first half with a sprained ankle and did not return but is expected to be ready for the Sweet 16 this week. Despite the minimal time, he made a significant impact.

As for Griffith, he didn't have much to say after the game.

Just like during the game.