OKLAHOMA CITY — The Missouri's men's basketball team wasn't leading at halftime in either of its first two Big 12 tournament games, but there was no panic in the Tigers' locker room.
Thursday night, Missouri outscored Texas Tech by 21 in the second half to cruise to an easy victory. In Friday's semifinal, the Tigers fought a red-hot Oklahoma State team and a sea of orange in Oklahoma City to outscore the Cowboys by 10 on their way to a 67-59 victory.
"I thought the second half was much, much better than the first half and much to our liking," Anderson said. "It seemed like the second half was big for our basketball team."
That sentiment has been a common theme for Anderson's team this season. The Tigers are 23-0 when leading or tied at halftime and have made several second half comebacks, including two at Nebraska and Texas A&M that ended up falling short.
Additionally, Missouri is 3-1 when trailing by 10 points or less at halftime this season, with the only loss coming to Xavier when Missouri lost a seven-point lead in the last five minutes in its third game of the season. The Tigers even came back from 14 points down at the half to beat Kansas 62-60 at Mizzou Arena just over a month ago.
As usual, Anderson cited conditioning and depth as key factors for his team's rally in the second half against the Cowboys. Oklahoma State, who shoots a Big 12-leading 39 percent from 3-point range, made just 4-of-24 Friday night at the Ford Center.
Although the Tigers' defense was certainly a factor, it may have been especially bothering to a team that was playing its third game in three days. Anderson and his players often point to defensive adjustments in the second half as key to their dominance in the last 20 minutes. Friday was no different, even though the Tigers' defense was more effective in the first half than it was in the second.
"When we went in at halftime, we saw that the guards were really making the difference on their team against our defense," Missouri guard J.T. Tiller said. "When we came out in the second half, we knew we had to pressure them to actually get to their team."
Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford effectively slowed down the pace of the game with a compact zone defense for nearly the entire forty minutes. Compared to the teams' first meeting in Stillwater, when the Tigers won 97-95, the teams scored a combined 66 points less and attempted 14 fewer field goals and 31 fewer free throws.
So far in Oklahoma City, Missouri has benefited from being more rested than its opponents. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State both had to play while the Tigers rested on Wednesday, and the same is true of Baylor, Missouri's opponent in tomorrow's final.
"There is a lot at stake for both teams," Anderson said. "And so I think sometimes the conditioning and all that stuff kind of goes out the window. You get an opportunity to play in the championship game, that's a big deal."
But as the only team in the final with a top four seed and a first round bye, history favors the Tigers. Only three teams seeded lower than fourth — No. 5 seed Missouri in 2001, No. 5 seed Oklahoma State in 1999 and No. 10 seed Missouri in 1997 — have ever appeared in the Big 12 final. In 12 years, no team has ever won four straight games to win the title.