GLENDALE, Ariz. — Missouri guard J.T. Tiller catches the long rebound and sprints down the court.
Four days earlier against Marquette, Tiller's wrist went numb after a hard foul, preventing the junior from shooting two free throws with 5.5 seconds left and the game tied.
vs. Connecticut (30-4)
WHEN: 3:40 p.m.
WHERE: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale Ariz.
TV: KRCG/Channel 13
RADIO: KFRU/1400, KBXR/102.3 FM
Missouri is 21-21 in the NCAA men's basketball tournament and has reached the Elite EIght four times, three since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The Tigers have never played in the final four.
1944 — lost to Utah 45-35; beat Pepperdine 61-46.
1976 — beat Washington 69-67; beat Texas Tech 86-75; lost to Michigan 95-88.
1978 — lost to Utah 86-79, 2OT.
1980 — beat San Jose State 61-51; beat Notre Dame 87-84; lost to LSU 68-63.
1981 — lost to Lamar 71-67.
1982 — beat Marquette 73-69; lost to Houston 79-78.
1983 — lost to Iowa 77-63.
1986 — lost to Alabama-Birmingham 66-64.
1987 — lost to Xavier, Ohio 70-69.
1988 — lost to Rhode Island 87-80.
1989 — beat Creighton 85-69; beat Texas 108-89; lost to Syracuse 83-80.
1990 — lost to Northern 74-71.
1992 — beat West Virginia 89-78; lost to Seton Hall 88-71.
1993 — lost to Temple 75-61.
1994 — beat Navy 76-53; beat Wisconsin 109-96; beat Syracuse 98-88, OT; lost to Arizona 92-72.
1995 — beat Indiana 65-60; lost to UCLA 75-74.
1999 — lost to New Mexico 61-59.
2000 — lost to North Carolina 84-70.
2001 — beat Georgia 70-68; lost to Duke 94-81.
2002 — beat Miami 93-80; beat Ohio State 83-67; beat UCLA 82-73; lost to Oklahoma 81-75.
2003 — beat Southern Illinois 72-71; lost to Marquette 101-92, OT.
2009 — beat Cornell 78-59; beat Marquette 83-79, beat Memphis 102-91.
Freshman Kim English came in to make the free throws and earn the victory. Tiller said he regretted missing his opportunity to win the game.
This time, there isn't much pressure on Tiller. His team is up by nine points with less than a minute to play on its way to a 102-91 win to advance to the Elite Eight for the third time since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Tiller's wrist, which is wrapped with a black brace, hurts. It has hurt all season, since he first injured it in the Black-and-Gold scrimmage. But Tiller, one of the toughest Tigers, never admits he's injured.
"The wrist is good," Tiller said. "I'm 100 percent."
As the clock runs down, Tiller drives toward the basket. When he nears the rim he flips the ball to DeMarre Carroll, who lays it in the basket to seal the win.
Again and again, off of cuts to the basket, offensive rebounds, spin moves and even jump shots, Tiller used his injured right wrist to score.
"I think J.T. set the tone as far as, offensively, with the way he was attacking the basket," junior guard Zaire Taylor said. "I think he showed that you could get to the hole on them. Once that happened, I think the whole team just followed his lead."
Tiller's play was especially important because Taylor, the team's starting point guard, spent all but four minutes of the first half on the bench with foul trouble.
Tiller finished the game with a career-high 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting. He also had four rebounds and three assists.
"His energy was just contagious," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. "He was like a little bull in a China shop out there. He was going everywhere, just bowling down everybody."
Early in the game, Memphis' Tyreke Evans, the national freshman of the year, blew past Missouri defenders for several easy baskets.
But Tiller matched him. In a four minute span in the first half, Tiller scored 11 points. At halftime, Evans had 14 points. Tiller had scored 16.
"I thought he set the tone and some of those guys followed his lead," Anderson said. "We had to have him to do that because Zaire, his partner in crime, he was on the bench."
Missouri built a 24-point lead early in the second half before Memphis cut the lead to as few as six points late in the game. But Missouri made 11 free throws in the final 2:04 to hang on for the win.
All five Missouri starters scored in double figures. Evans finished with 33 points for Memphis.
Two technical fouls hurt Memphis. One was called on coach John Calipari and the other was assessed to the Memphis bench. Missouri made three of the four free throws off of the technicals.
A key moment in the game came in the final seconds of the first half.
Memphis guard Antonio Anderson threw the ball to forward Shawn Taggart cutting to the basket with five seconds left in the first half for an easy dunk.
After trailing for most of the first half, it was the type of play that could have given Memphis the momentum going into the second half.
But Missouri inbounded the ball quickly to freshman guard Marcus Denmon, who took one step and, 70 feet away from the basket, hurled up the ball. With the ball in midair, Missouri fans held their breath. One screamed out, "It's good."
Sure enough, the ball barely grazed the net as it snapped through. The improbable shot gave Missouri a comfortable 13-point lead.
After the game, Taylor said the team has been practicing long shots like that during the NCAA Tournament. Anderson has each player take two shots from beyond halfcourt each day after practice.
"It's funny because coach had us practicing that the whole tournament," Taylor said. "I like to think that it paid off."
After the game, players were hesitant to answer questions about whether it was the biggest win in the history of Missouri basketball.
"Even though we won, there's still a lot of things we can learn," senior Leo Lyons said. "That's the only thing that we can take from this win is things that we need to improve on for the next game."
Missouri will play No. 1-seed Connecticut at 3:40 p.m. Saturday in the Elite Eight at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. It is Missouri's first trip to the Elite Eight since 2002.