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Opponents struggling to slow down Tigers

Despite throwing a zone defense and patient half-court offense at the Tigers, Cornell found it tough to get Missouri out of rhythm.
Friday, March 20, 2009 | 6:19 p.m. CDT
Forward DeMarre Carroll drives to the basket against Cornell's Brian Kreefer. Carroll had 13 points on the day in Missouri's 78-59 victory.

BOISE, Idaho — When Missouri is on its game, it's one of the fastest and most entertaining basketball teams in the country.

If the Tigers are running, their opponents are probably in trouble. But as Cornell found out in Missouri's 78-59 win on Thursday afternoon, slowing down the Tigers for 40 minutes is like trying to hold down a high-pressure leak. The longer the game goes, the more difficult it becomes.

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For most of the first half, the Big Red stayed in the game by playing at its preferred tempo with a tight 2-3 zone and patient offense. Missouri coach Mike Anderson said his team was settling for jump shots and not being aggressive enough offensively.

"As the game continued to flow I thought we started getting the ball to the baseline," Anderson said. "You saw J.T. (Tiller) sneak back there, and you got lobs in there to Leo, and eventually they're going to have to come out of the zone."

Missouri has seen plenty of zone defense recently, especially in the Big 12 Conference tournament against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Baylor. In all three of those games, the Tigers started slow before pulling away in the second half for comfortable victories.

Some teams in the Big 12 tried to run with the Tigers, but others preferred a slower pace. In the Big 12 opener, Nebraska held Missouri to a season-low 51 points and 47 field goal attempts to beat the Tigers 56-51. Since then, Missouri hasn't scored fewer than 62 points, including a 70-47 thrashing of Nebraska in Columbia where Missouri had 59 field goal attempts.

"We can't really be concerned with the tempo that (opponents) are trying to play at," Taylor said. "If you want to control the tempo, you've got to get after it and with Coach A I know there's a lot of guys ready to get after it so if I don't I know someone else will."

On Thursday, Tiller and Taylor kept the pressure on defensively, but Cornell's nine turnovers were the lowest by a Missouri opponent this season. Still, Anderson was pleased with the intensity from his two defensive-minded guards.

"I thought our pressure defense was the difference in the game," Anderson said. "There's a lot of different ways it can have an effect on the game, and i thought you saw another way tonight."

Even when opponents have successfully slowed down the Tigers, they've still found ways to win. Missouri averages 81 points per game, but it is 10-4 when scoring fewer than 70 points. That includes a 62-60 win over Kansas and a 67-59 win over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Conference tournament quarterfinals.

"We love to get up and down the floor but teams are going to try to slow us down, obviously," senior Matt Lawrence said. "That's seemed to be the gameplan. It's why they go zone. So I'm glad that we're able to win other ways, even though it might not be as pretty."

In the second round on Sunday, Missouri will face another gold team that doesn't mind pushing the ball up the floor. Even without senior guard Dominic James, whose season ended when he broke his foot last month, No. 6-seed Marquette has one of the better backcourts in the country, led by seniors Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews.

 


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