By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
KANSAS CITY, Mo. –
So, now Missouri's basketball program is finished with Big 12 Conference competition. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they've also played their last game – for this season at least – in the Sprint Center.
Named and sponsored by a telecommunications company, the downtown arena is aptly named for the speedy Tigers. But they'd probably prefer it be called the Shooting Center or the Basket Center. The facility across the street from the Power and Light District gets lit up when Missouri's in town.
The second-seeded Tigers, their offense clicking and their shots falling, rolled past No. 4 seed Baylor, 90-75, Saturday to win the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men's Championship. Four years ago in Oklahoma City, Missouri (30-4) won its second Big 12 hoops title with a 73-60 victory over the Bears.
"We're comfortable in this building and it really helped that we had success here earlier," said Missouri coach Frank Haith, referring to November blow outs of Notre Dame and California. "We knew coming in that not only we would have our fans behind us but we'd have the confidence of playing well here."
KenPom.com, a basketball analysis site, ranks Missouri in offensive efficiency. The Tigers shoot 50 percent from the field, 39 percent from 3-point range and average 80 points a game. In the Sprint Center, they're even better. Missouri averaged 87.6 points in five games, shot 55.3 percent from the field and 43.2 percent from 3-point range.
Missouri's offensive acumen kept the Bears (27-7) frustrated. Until the final two minutes, Baylor was teased with the opportunity to slip into the lead. Each time the Bears got close, the Tigers scored to keep control.
"I sound like a broken record, but it was all about getting stops," Baylor senior forward Quincy Acy said. They did a great job of hitting shots and we didn't get enough stops. We had to get stops and convert 'easys.' We didn't get enough of either."
Baylor had a 40-38 rebounding edge (18 to six on the offensive glass) and launched 11 more shots. But the Bears converted just 39.7 percent. Perry Jones III had 16 points and 11 rebounds after totaling eight points in Baylor's two regular-season losses to the Tigers.
"They're a tough team to match up with," Jones said. "It's why they're one of the best teams in the country. You have to defend on the perimeter, especially against them."
Kim English, named the most outstanding player, had 19 points to lead five Tigers in double figures. Big 12 sixth man of the year Michael Dixon had 17 while Ricardo Ratliff, Marcus Denmon and Phil Pressey each had 15. Pressey also added eight assists.
In three Big 12 Championship games, Missouri shot a record 55.4 percent from the field.
"We were outstanding offensively in terms of our execution," Haith said. "It was just a great performance today, but also just a great performance all week for us."
The first five minutes of each half proved critical. The Tigers took an 18-10 lead when Denmon drove past Jones. Despite the Bears twice drawing within two, Missouri led at halftime 43-37.
Making six of their first nine shots, the Tigers jumped to a 56-42 lead capped by a Matt Pressey 3-pointer and a follow shot after a Denmon still and missed layup.
Baylor spent the rest of the half trying to overcome that deficit. Had the game lasted 45 minutes, the Bears might have succeeded. Ratliff fouled out with 4:06 to play and Steve Moore, the Tigers' other post player, finished with four fouls.
Two Acy free throws made it 77-72 with 2:20 remaining but Phil Pressey – who had missed in his previous two trips to the line – made two foul shots with 2:12 remaining to make it 79-72 it wall over but for the confetti, the net cutting the trophies and the championship caps and t-shirts.
The Tigers won the CBE Classic in the Sprint Center and followed that with the Big 12 Championship. Next up, the NCAA Tournament.
"We talked about winning championships from day one," Haith said. "Now we get a chance to play for a national championship."
Kim English, Missouri*
Perry Jones III, Baylor
Phil Pressey, Missouri
Brady Heslip, Baylor
J'Covan Brown, Texas
* - Most outstanding player