GLENDALE, Ariz. — Just two games ago, Missouri was a second-half team.
After Thursday night’s 102-91 victory against Memphis at University of Phoenix Stadium, that label might be in doubt. For the second straight game, Missouri took a double-digit lead into halftime and saw it whittled to single digits before holding on for a victory.
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.
“I think it’s a sense of urgency," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. “You’re into tournament play. It’s a different mindset. If you don’t come out with the energy and match the intensity of the teams, you may dig a hole early and you may not dig out of that hole. So in terms of coming out, it’s a tribute to our guys.”
In its first NCAA tournament game March 20, Anderson’s squad outscored Cornell 49-34 in the second half for an easy 78-59 win. It was the fifth-straight game in which Missouri outscored its opponent by at least nine in the last 20 minutes.
But Marquette ended that trend in the second round when it outscored Missouri 44-37 in the second half in a game where Missouri actually lost the lead before winning on the strength of two free throws from freshman Kim English.
Thursday night, Memphis outscored Missouri 55-53 in the second half, even though Missouri scored 13 of the first 17 points.
Nonetheless, Missouri is advancing to the Elite Eight on Saturday to face No. 1 seed Connecticut, who beat Purdue 72-60 in the first game in Glendale, Ariz. But it’s not because of Missouri's well-publicized pressure defense, even though Memphis committed 14 turnovers.
“I thought our defense was good,” Anderson said, "and people may look at the score and not think that, but I thought our defense was really good, it was disruptive.”
Even though coach Mike Anderson and his players always give credit to the defense first, it was the offense that got them into the Elite Eight. It took Missouri less than 24 minutes to surpass 57 points, the scoring average of No. 2 seed Memphis’ opponents this season.
“Just the style we were playing tonight against Memphis really gave us a chance to spread the court and actually attack and drive and kick and do everything on offense that we’ve been practicing,” guard J.T. Tiller said.
At times in the second half, Memphis’ Tyreke Evans and Robert Dozier looked nearly unstoppable getting to the basket. But that wasn’t enough. Time after time, Missouri answered with drives or precision passing from one gold-clad player to another.
The offensive success, with 33 field goals and 17 assists, was nothing new for this team. Missouri is fifth in the country with more than 81 points per game and it leads the nation with 18.4 assists per game. All five Missouri starters scored in double figures in another balanced effort.
“It’s just unselfishness when it comes to assists,” senior guard Matt Lawrence said. “We have no superstars. We have no egos on this team, and everyone looks for the open man and expects them to knock it down.”
Connecticut will give Anderson’s team a new challenge in 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet. The Big East defensive player of the year is second in the country with 4.4 blocks per game and affects nearly every shot inside the paint. But Lawrence said Missouri must try to keep attacking the basket.
“I think if we just work the ball around the perimeter and just take open jump shots all day, we’re not going to win,” Lawrence said.