BOISE, Idaho — Marquette's Dominic James planted his left foot awkwardly while dribbling between his legs early in the first half of a Feb. 25 game against Connecticut.
As he ran back on defense, he reached down and grabbed his leg. When he came out of the game, Marquette's senior point guard was told his foot was broken. His college basketball career was over.
No. 3 seed Missouri (29-6) vs. No. 6 seed Marquette (25-9)
WHEN: 3:50 p.m.
WHERE: Taco Bell Arena, Boise, Idaho
TV: KRCG/Channel 13
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
At the time, Marquette was 23-4 and ranked No. 8 in the country. At one point this season, the Golden Eagles won 12 straight games.
But without James, the team's unquestioned leader, the Golden Eagles went on to lose that game to Connecticut and four of the following five games.
The loss of James was crushing, but Marquette coach Buzz Williams isn't willing to use it as an excuse.
"It's always on me. When we win, it's because they're really good players. And when we lose, it's because I haven't figured out the perfect way to give them a chance for success," Williams said.
Despite not playing, James has remained a constant presence as a leader. During the team's win over Utah State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, James sat in the first seat next to Williams on the bench.
He watched the action intently, clenching a towel between his teeth. It isn't easy for him to sit out, but he still wants to help his teammates.
"He's doing everything but playing on the court for us. He's telling us what he sees, he's coaching, he's giving plays to coach, he's cheerleading," Marquette guard Wesley Matthews said. "He could have went a completely different route about it and pouted and just been upset and felt sorry for himself."
Junior guard Maurice Acker, who played sparingly for most of the season, has stepped into the lineup in James' place.
"It's been tough, but at the same time I'm thankful to be in this position," Acker said.
Since James was injured, Acker has averaged 30.8 minutes, 6.1 points and 3.1 assists.
"The timing of the injury is probably as citical as anything else because there was only 10 days left in the regular season," Williams said. "So for you to go from a situation where you were only playing spot minutes to having to play minutes that were absolutely critical for us just to have a chance not to get blown out of the gym, I think Mo's been accountable in every sort of way."
HAPPY TIGERS: During Missouri's 4-0 postseason in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, the Tigers have been enjoying themselves.
The team's high morale is obvious in press conferences as players whisper jokes back and forth and giggle between answering questions.
DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and J.T. Tiller sat down to address the media on Saturday with a bottle of Gatorade.
Because Vitamin Water is a major sponsor of this year's tournament, the press conference moderator asked the players to pour the Gatorade into Vitamin Water cups.
At first, Lyons looked confused. When he realized what was going on, Lyons chuckled.
"Ah, sponsorship," Lyons said.
He held the Vitamin Water cup up beside his face, smiled and looked into the video cameras at the back of the room.
"I play so great because of Vitamin Water."
KILLING TIME IN TIMEOUTS: During the NCAA Tournament, the four media timeouts during each half are longer than during the season to allow for extra TV advertising.
"I always try to get a drink of water now before I go talk to my team because I know that my voice is going to give out during the longest TV timeouts ever," Williams said.
The longer timeouts can be a disadvantage for a team like Missouri that relies on its pressure defense to tire its opponents into making mistakes. The long timeouts give players a chance to catch their breath.
"It's hard to get tired in an NCAA Tournament game. These timeouts are three minutes long," Cornell coach Steve Donahue said after losing to Missouri on Friday. "I didn't sense fatigue at all."
Williams agreed, saying the long timeouts might help his team against the Tigers today.
"Being that we're short in size and short as it relates to depth, it's probably a benefit to us," William said.