Tuesday, March 20, 2007

1993-94 Redux: Missouri 81, Kansas 74

(Yes, it was a bit of a twist of the knife throwing in that Thames article at the end...especially with the "He'll get better" line. I do like how we were 19-2 and 10-0 in a tough conference...and #12 overall. I guess the stigma of that 52-point loss to Arkansas was a little tough to shake.)

February 20, 1994

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Now that they've achieved a big, round number, the Missouri Tigers still insist on taking things one at a time.

“We just take one day at time and one game at a time and one opponent at a time,” freshman forward Kelly Thames said. It aids the concentration that the one in question today is Kansas. The Tigers (19-2, 10-0), ranked 12th in the nation, can clinch at least a tie for the Big Eight championship by winning today at Allen Fieldhouse.

“To be able to win 10 games in conference play, particularly the five on the road, really takes a heck of an effort,” Missouri coach Norm Stewart said.

“They have made a good effort. Each ballgame, they've gotten themselves ready, and then they've been able to go out and do enough things to win the ballgame. It sounds simple when it's over.”

Wednesday night went Missouri's way in a big way. The Tigers won in overtime at Iowa State, and Kansas lost in overtime at Oklahoma State. Had those outcomes been reversed, Kansas could be playing for a first-place tie today.

Instead Kansas can't do more than block the Tigers for the moment. The Jayhawks, who are ranked fourth by The Associated Press and second nationally in the coaches poll, stay in third place in the Big Eight with a loss today. They are trying to avoid losing consecutive games for the first time in five years and losing their third on their home-court this season. That too would be the most since 1989.

“They might have the edge in getting ready for this game,” Stewart said. “I hope that our guys realize that probably we're in a position where we wouldn't be hurt rating-wise for the NCAA, but we could certainly enhance our position with a win.”

What could have been a harrowing week for Missouri turned heroic for Thames. He put in the game-winner against Oklahoma State on Saturday, then scored a career-high 24 points against the Cyclones.

Now he's looking forward to playing at Allen Fieldhouse for the first time.

“It's very exciting when you put up a basket, a free throw or something, you hear the crowd sigh in disbelief,” he said. “Just make them be quiet for a couple seconds.

“That's a real thrill on my part because I like to hear the crowd shut up instead of hooting and hollering all the time against us.”

Missouri's eight seniors haven't enjoyed that sensation very much. Allen Fieldhouse is the one place in the Big Eight where the fourth-year players have never won.

“All the seniors, they're ready for this game,” Thames said.

“We're just taking one game at a time,” he said. “The Kansas game is our main focal point. After that, we'll think about the next.

“We're just really not sitting around talking about being satisfied right now. We just want to keep on improving.”

Some superstition might be creeping into the Tigers' thought processes, though. Remember, they have three uniforms -- white, black and gold. The black haven't been seen since the second game of the season, a 120-68 loss at Arkansas.

“We haven't been wearing the black uniforms in a while,” Thames said. “We've been on a good streak in the gold. We don't want to break that string.”

Regardless of the dress code, Thames is looking forward to his second meeting with the Jayhawks. “It's really a joy just to play against them,” he said.
February 21, 1994

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Part of Missouri's eighth Big Eight basketball crown will come from the iron of the Allen Fieldhouse rims. The Tigers guaranteed themselves no worse than a tie for the championship and dethroned the Jayhawks with an 81-74 victory yesterday.

The Tigers (20-2, 11-0) stayed unbeaten in the Big Eight and reclaimed the title they last held in 1990, the year before Kansas began a three-year reign, the first year as co-champion with Oklahoma State.

Missouri, ranked 12th in The Associated Press Top 25 at game time, stayed in character as the league front-runner that comes from behind.

Down 58-49 with 10:27 to play, the Tigers outscored Kansas 32-16 to the finish. It was mostly Melvin Booker.

He scored a career-high 32 points. Of Missouri's final 28 points, Booker scored 17. Kelly Thames added six.

“I needed to step up and show them I was a great player,” Booker said.

That seems to be conclusively proved.

Booker's second consecutive three-point basket and eighth consecutive point for Missouri brought the Tigers within 63-61 with 7:19 left. He tied it with an 18-foot jumper at 6:52. After Kansas (21-5, 6-4) regained the lead on a Jacque Vaughn three-pointer, Thames got it back with a basket.

Kansas tied at 67. Thames put Missouri up. Kansas tied it, and Booker hit a three-pointer for a 72-69 lead with 2:20 left. KU never caught up.

“We dug ourselves a little hole and made a rally,” MU coach Norm Stewart said. “Everybody had a hand in it. The determination was tremendous.”

Booker's hand was larger than the blue foam rubber Jayhawks the KU fans waved.

“We called a couple things for him, but not during that run,” Stewart said. “He knew. He knew where it was coming, and so did everybody else.”

In all of Roy Williams' six years as Kansas coach, this season series has been swept. The victorious team has won or tied for the conference championship in five of those years.

Williams, who is now 6-6 against Stewart, went home impressed.

“It's mind-boggling to me because I thought last year, and two years ago, we had an excellent club, and we won by about three games and didn't even come close to being undefeated. They could win by four or five or six games if they keep going.”

No Big Eight team has gone 14-0 since in the 1971 Jayhawks. Oklahoma State, in second place at 7-3, is the only team that can tie the Tigers.

This was the one place in the Big Eight where Missouri's senior class had not won in four years.

“The fact that this is KU, and we've never won here, that takes some extra effort,” Lamont Frazier said. “The kind that you never know if you'll have again.”

Missouri, in the Steve Stipanovich-Jon Sundvold years of 1980-83, remains the only team to win four consecutive Big Eight titles.

But, playing to type, the Tigers weren't looking backward or forward.

“Our ballplayers concentrated on what was at hand,” Stewart said.

Kansas, ranked fourth nationally, handed over the title. Missouri won it the same way the Jayhawks gained the top perch. The Tigers were the deeper team and far more successful at the free throw line. Missouri made 24 of 30 free throws, 80 percent. The Jayhawks hit only nine of 22.

Vaughn, KU's freshman point guard, scored a career-high 21 points to lead the Jayhawks. He made four of six three-pointers and seven of his 10 field goal attempts.

Kansas took the early lead, going ahead 7-2. Booker gave Missouri its first lead, 14-13, 11:56 before halftime with a pair of free throws.

Kansas regained the lead, but Missouri went up 37-28 on Mark Atkins' second three-point basket with 2:09 left. Kansas cut it to 37-34 before Booker ended the first-half scoring with a layup.

Kansas seemed to contract the missed layup malady that struck Missouri last week at Ames and made only 12 of 31 first-half shots.

Missouri slowed itself with 11 first-half turnovers, and the Jayhawks added to their difficulties with four blocks, three by 7-foot-2 center Greg Ostertag.

“It's like shooting over a giraffe,” Tiger center Jevon Crudup said. “He's large. He's large.”

The Jayhawks had things going their way offensively to start the second half, in which 55 percent shooting boosted their figure to 46.7.

The Tigers tightened down the stretch. “We just pulled together, played hard defense, just played aggressive,” Thames said.

“We made a lot of breaks,” Stewart said. “We've had a lot of breaks, but I want to tell you something: When you play like that, you make them.”
February 21, 1994

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Kelly Thames talked like a freshman after Missouri's 81-74 victory over Kansas yesterday.

“I always dreamed about playing here,” Thames said with the smile of a youngster visiting Disneyland. “I was happy to be in a ball game like this. I was very excited to play in front of this crowd.”

Kelly Thames played like an upperclassman.

Thames scored 11 points, all in the second half, on five-of-seven shooting, and grabbed eight rebounds.

“They were very tall and stronger than me, so I just tried to use my quickness,” said Thames, a 6-foot-7, 207-pound forward. “That was the key right there.”

Thames, who had 14 points and six rebounds in last month's victory over Kansas, provided crucial support in the second half when Missouri fell behind. He scored three straight baskets that helped Missouri go from three points down to a two-point lead with three minutes left. The last bucket came after one of his three offensive rebounds.

Thames also displayed his defensive skills, forcing Kansas' clutch guard, Steve Woodberry, into a turnover during Missouri's comeback.

“I just do whatever's possible for us to win,” Thames said.

Yesterday's performance was only the most recent in a pattern Thames has set this season.

Thames has five double-doubles, the most recent coming Wednesday when he had 24 points and 12 rebounds in the victory over Iowa State.

Thames, the Big Eight's leading freshman scorer and rebounder, already has more double-doubles than all but one freshman in program history. Stan Ray recorded eight during the 1975-76 season.

Against Oklahoma State nine days ago, Thames threw in the winning shot.

“He's got the floor presence,” Missouri coach Norm Stewart said. “He's got the heart. And then he can handle” the ball, “play defense, maneuver.

“He'll get better.”