Monday, April 2, 2007

1993-94 Redux: Arizona 92, Missouri 72

(Arizona matched up absolutely perfectly with this Mizzou team. Mizzou was able to muffle quickness with strength, smarts, and physicality. But the Wildcats were SO quick that Mizzou couldn't get a handle on them. They were treading water early, but when the bottom dropped out, the bottom really dropped out. You look at the other Elite Eight teams--Florida-Boston College, Arkansas-Michigan, Purdue-Duke--and you realize that Mizzou's style of play matched up well with anybody other than Arizona or Arkansas. Plus, having to play them in LA sure didn't help, huh? Might have been nice to get that SE #1 seed instead of UNC, huh?)

March 25, 1994

LOS ANGELES -- You almost wonder if an X-ray of the Missouri Tigers mightreveal machine parts. Ball bearings. Cogs. Pistons.

Metal on the inside. Kevlar on the outside.

Last night the X-rays came back positive. Those unshakable nerves and psychesremained firmly bolted in Missouri's 98-88 overtime victory against Syracuseat the Los Angeles Sports Arena even when the Tigers kept slamming intoembankment after embankment.

By digesting yet another opponent for win No. 28 this season, the Tigers movedwithin one checkup of the Final Four and made their case for being the bestteam in school history.

Don't bother fumbling for your spectacles. You read it right. Perhaps the bestteam in school history, though not the most skillfully gifted. Only the 1976team has ventured as far in the NCAA Tournament as this one, and the currentplayers can set themselves apart from the bicentennial bunch by beatingArizona tomorrow.

“I really think there's a lot of Tiger left in the tank for them,” Missouricoach Norm Stewart said.

Arizona sparkled in dusting off Louisville and probably should be favoredagainst Missouri when you compare both teams' tipoff-to-buzzer effectivenesslast night. But toss in the fortitude factor, and it's difficult to deny thatMissouri reaching the Final Four is not just a dream.

Tough hombres, those Tigers.

Surely John Wayne would have loved to coach this team. They would havestarred, of course, in “True Grit.”

For now, though, the Tigers are content starring in their own version of “Howthe West was Won.”

They survived in the NCAA's West Region by gutting out a stretch late inregulation play against Syracuse that would have caused weaker teams to turnpale and double over.

Ahead by 12 points with less than nine minutes left, Missouri braced asSyracuse took dead aim at MU's lead and its emotional grip. The Tigers scoredtwo field goals in the final 10 minutes of regulation, but made nine of 13free throws, including two of the alloy-nerve variety by freshman Kelly Thameswith 45 seconds remaining.

The danger in letting a team rally late like that is two-pronged: Your teamcan enter the overtime playing somewhat on its heels, and the opponent cancollect the momentum of a runaway train.

So, Missouri's lead fell. But its emotional grip held -- which was apparent asit ran over Syracuse in overtime.

The players exited the court in jubilation but not with the hysteria ofmatching the school's all-time best postseason.

“I think it's the personality of this ballclub,” Stewart said. “Youcelebrate when the season's over.”

Those same machine parts engaged in reserved celebrations during a brilliantregular season, too. The brilliance included second-half comeback victories atOklahoma State and Kansas. “That's toughness,” Stewart said.

That toughness is a product of the coach, some early character-building gamesand experience, all of which have maximized the grit inherent in each playerwhen he entered Missouri's program.

Credit Stewart, longtime tough guy, for much of the team persona. The playersseem to follow Stewart's emotional gyroscope.

And the one-, three- and four-point December victories against Coppin State,Central Missouri and Jackson State are paying off nicely.

“We were always fighting back. We had a lot of tough games,” guard JulianWinfield said. “A lot of people, maybe they doubted us a little bit for that.But I think ... those games enabled us to be prepared for such close gamesnow.”

Very few teams streak this far on just a whim and raw emotion. Those types offossil fuels tend to burn out after a couple of rounds.

The tough teams, they fight and they survive.

Count Missouri among them.

March 25, 1994

LOS ANGELES--If you didn't listen closely, you might have thought Arizonaguard Reggie Geary knew the Missouri Tigers so well that he could recite theirdiet.

"They eat the potatoes," Geary said, responding to a question on what he knewabout MU, the team Arizona will meet tomorrow in the West Region final.

Geary quickly clarified what he meant. Potatoes. Figure of speech.

"They're big boys," he said.

Most of Arizona's player said they knew little about Missouri except for whatthey had seen in watching the first half of last night's MU-Syracuse game.

"I just keep hearing how big and physical they are," forward Ray Owes said.

Khalid Reeves, who scored 29 points last night against Louisville, said: "Iknow we've got a chance to beat Missouri. I don't know too much" about theTigers.

Arizona coach Lute Olson said he and his staff have watched Missouri ontelevision a few times this season and would begin studying game film almostimmediately.

March 26, 1994

LOS ANGELES -- From crime to layoffs to the beach, things come at you in waveshere in Southern California. For Missouri, which barely weathered 60 pointsfrom Syracuse's backcourt tandem in Thursday's West Regional semifinals, it'stime to hunker down again.

This afternoon, the Tigers take on Arizona, whose pair of Khalid Reeves andDamon Stoudamire averages 42 points a game.

Reeves is averaging 24 points per game, 30 in Arizona's three NCAA Tournamentgames.

“Their backcourt is oustanding,” Missouri coach Norm Stewart said. “I thinkif we can do as well against them as we did against Syracuse's backcourt, weought to be able to hold them somewhere in the 60s.”

Reeves is a senior. Stoudamire is a junior. Both are All-Pac-10. Reeves hasscored 803 points this season, third-most in Pac-10 history.

Stoudamire has launched a school-record 246 three-point shots.

Reeves is 6-foot-2, Stoudamire 5-11. At 6-2, Reggie Geary makes it sthree-guard lineup for the Wildcats (28-5).

Syracuse's Lawrence Moten and Adrian Autry are 6-5 and 6-4, respectively.

Missouri's Melvin Booker, the Big Eight Player of the Year and a second-teamAll-American, wasn't in over his head.

He likes mixing with the upper crust of college backcourts. “It motivates mea lot,” Booker said. The Tigers (28-3) will have to shift gears from theOrangemen.

“We've got to find a way to slow them down,” Booker said. “The guards arethe key to their team. I think if we slow them down, it should be a prettygood game.

“It'll take a team effort. I think we'll go at the attack, throwing three orfour different guys at them. Our depth may be the key to the game.”

Just sorting out the mismatched sizes will take some time.

“What'll be a problem for us in dealing with the size and bulk on one endwill become a problem for them in dealing with our quickness on the other,”Arizona coach Lute Olson said.

“Missouri's got bulk in some outside positions. Like who do you match Damonup with? But then who do they match up with Damon?”

Missouri hopes to find the right combination somewhere in its cache of guards.Starter Julian Winfield said Stoudamire and Reeves remind him of Nick VanExel, now excelling with the Los Angeles Lakers, who was at Cincinnati whenWinfield was with Saint Louis.

“They match up very close to Van Exel because they're very quick and realagile,” Winfield said. “They have a nice three-point shot.”

Reeves had 29 points against Louisville, but that doesn't even qualify as ahot hand. “It was just a normal game for me last night,” Reeves said. As formatching up with Booker, he'll need more information.

“I wasn't that aware of Melvin Booker coming into this season, and I reallyhaven't heard his name mentioned that much,” Reeves said. “Right now, I'veprobably seen him play about five minutes, when I was watching them before ourballgame last night. I just have to watch films, and I'll just go fromthere.”

Olson can fill him in a bit.

“He's a guy you've got to defend a long ways out, and yet he does a nice joboff the drive,” Olson said. “He's under control. He makes good decisions.There aren't many guards I've seen any better than Booker.”

If Booker and Co., can just cancel out their Arizona counterparts, Tigercenter Jevon Crudup likes Missouri's chances.

“Their guards may have a little edge over us, but as far as maturity, size,strength, I think we have the edge,” he said.

Putting so much in the guards' hands was a change for Olson. He tested thewaters during an off-season tour of Australia and New Zealand.

“We made the trip to Australia in May,” Olson said. “In the 10 practicesprior to that, we had gone with the things we thought would be most successfuloffensively.

“There's a lot more to these guards than jump shots. They can do a great jobof breaking down an outstanding defensive team in a number of seconds.”

They feel this is their time. “Our confidence level is extremely high rightnow,” Stoudamire said.

March 27, 1994

LOS ANGELES -- Arizona took a big red eraser to Missouri's place in the NCAATournament. The Wildcats rubbed out the Tigers one step away from the FinalFour, winning

92-72 in the West Regional final.

“They kept penciling us out all year long,” Missouri coach Norm Stewartsaid. “We kept staying in. We thought maybe today would be another one wherewe could pencil ourselves in.”

Arizona took No. 1 seed Missouri out line by line. Its guard combination ofKhalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire, which averages 42 points per game, wasabove average in scoring 53. Stoudamire had 27.

The Tigers were scarcely recognizable as the team that went 14-0 in the BigEight. They were unbalanced and ineffective on offense, taking a season-high33 three-point shots and making only seven.

Melvin Booker and Jevon Crudup led the Tigers with 14 points each.

“It hurts to get so close,” Booker said. “God, it hurts. We really wantedto do it and came up short.”

The Tigers were eager to get to Charlotte, N.C., site of the Final Four.Yesterday at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, they crossed the line intoimpatience.

“We took 83 shots,” Stewart said. “We haven't taken 83 shots for the year.And obviously a lot of them weren't good ones. We just got ourselves in thatposition, and it started fairly early.”

Missouri's longest stay in the NCAA Tournament since 1978 was in jeopardyearly.

It took the Tigers three minutes to get on the scoreboard, that on a tip-in byLamont Frazier.

A three-pointer from Booker gave Missouri its first, last and only lead at11-9 with 13:33 to play.

Second seed Arizona (29-5) took command with a 14-3 run with Stoudamire andReeves combining for 12 of the points.

Missouri cut the lead to 25-22 with 6:52 left, then was laid out by a second,more damaging Arizona run to the buzzer. The Wildcats scored 15 points in thefinal 4:02 to take a 48-34 halftime lead.

“The thing that's been good for us, the defense, the last couple ballgameswe've really had a lot of difficulty,” Stewart said.

Senior Reggie Smith checked in with 9:02 left and Missouri trailing 25-16. Heaided the rally and put a temporary stop to Stoudamire, but Missouri never gotstarted offensively.

Crudup was the most effective Tiger in the early going. Crudup buckedMissouri's shooting trend, making five of seven first-half shots for ateam-leading 10 points.

“He did a decent job, but we didn't get him the ball enough,” Stewart said.

“As far as defense, I played crappy,” Arizona big man Joseph Blair said.“We won, though, so I'm not going to worry about it.”

Missouri, which made just two of 16 first-half three-point attempts, didn'ttest Blair too often.

“Shots came too early,” Stewart said. “When they don't go down, then you'vegot to have a better attack.”

Crudup was less of a factor in the second half. He fouled out with 7:25 leftand Missouri down 69-53. His encouragments during a huddle in the lane to thecontrary, it was the beginning of the end for Missouri's senior class.

“I basically pulled the guys together and told them the game's not over,”Crudup said. “Just because I fouled out doesn't mean we're going to lose.”

But by that time Missouri's best chance to get back in the game hadevaporated. Arizona opened the second half cold, colder than Missouri.

Arizona made just five of its first 21 second-half field goal attempts, butMissouri could not cut the lead to single digits for more than eight minutes.

“We were missing a lot of easy shots, and they weren't capitalizing,”Stoudamire said. “Nobody was scoring.”

Crudup's first second-half basket made it 58-50 with 12:47 left. The Tigersnever got closer than that. Arizona built the lead to a high of 88-61.

Stewart acknowledged that the Wildcats were the better team yesterday butcouldn't fathom that much difference.

“I would give them a lot of credit but not that much better,” he said. “Wecouldn't get the ball to fall early. We missed easy shots.”

The Tigers, who've found heroes virtually whenever and wherever they've neededthem this season, couldn't find a hot hand anywhere.

The reserves shot a combined 10 for 43 from the field.

“You have days like that,” freshman forward Kelly Thames said. “You justdon't want to have a day like that on a day you're trying to get to the FinalFour.”

March 27, 1994

LOS ANGELES -- Arizona's guards more than lived up to their billing. Missouriwas left on the short end of a 92-72 tab in the game to decide who would go tothe Final Four from the West Region.

Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire proved they're more a national than aregional phenomenon. Stoudamire had 27 points, shot four of six fromthree-point range, and tied Arizona forward Ray Owes for the game reboundinghigh with 10. Reeves scored 26 points and was named the Most OutstandingPlayer of the regional. Stoudamire joined him on the all-region team; the twoalso made All-Pac-10 together.

“They're two great guards, and they played a great game,” Missouri's MelvinBooker said.

“We've got two players on this team that can take a game over,” Stoudamiresaid.

Yesterday they alternated.

“They take turns carrying the load on their shoulders, and they did a finejob doing it,” Missouri's Lamont Frazier said. “They got everything thatthey wanted to get done on offense as well as defense. They just executed onboth ends of the court.”

Third guard Reggie Geary drew Booker as a defensive assignment, scored 14points, third-high for Arizona, and tied Booker for the assist leadership withfive.

Having established a lead in the second half, Arizona was able to spread thecourt with its guards and let the Tigers chase. Reeves, Stoudamire and Gearytook 29 of Arizona's 41 free throws and made 25.

“It's tough when you're down and you've got two great guards like that,”Booker said. “Plus you don't have the five-second rule on the dribble anymore so you can dribble all day.”

The Wildcats are well aware of that. “With the guards that we have that canjust dictate a game and with no five-second rule, it's kind of hard for a teamto come back unless you just turn the ball over,” Stoudamire said.

Booker said he and the Tigers have never run into anything like them in hisfour years.

Stoudamire “is the quickest guy that can shoot the ball as well,” Bookersaid. “You have some quick guys that just distribute the ball. Stoudamire's atough guy to cover with his quickness and his outside shooting.”

They are more than double trouble.

“It's tough to guard one of them by himself, but when both of them are hot,you really have problems,” Julian Winfield said. “Both of them shot the ballreal well today. Reeves took it to the hole inside and out. Stoudamire showedreal good range.”

Frazier thought the Tigers had something to do with Arizona's guards lookingas good as they did.

“Since I've been here, we've been running against people that play well, andon the nights we don't come out and play well, they looked extraordinary,”Frazier said. “But on the days we did come out and play well, it was a battle.”