GLENDALE, Ariz. — Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet grabbed two straight offensive rebounds, but the Missouri defense held tough, forcing three missed shots.
Finally, J.T. Tiller secured the ball and the Tigers flew to the other end. After swinging the ball around the perimeter, Matt Lawrence caught it under the basket and missed. Missouri fans thought he was fouled.
Big 12 Tournament
MU 81, Texas Tech 60
MU 67, Oklahoma St. 59
MU 73, Baylor 60
MU 78, Cornell 59
MU 83, Marquette 79
MU 102, Memphis 91
Connecticut 82, MU 75
Fans can welcome Missouri back to Columbia at 2 p.m. Sunday at the south side of Mizzou Arena.
The ball squirted out away from the basket, and Connecticut guards Kemba Walker and A.J. Price flew up the floor on the fastbreak.
When they approached the basket, Price tried to flip the ball to Walker, but Missouri forward Keith Ramsey sprinted back into the play to steal the ball. Ramsey threw it all the way back down the floor to Lawrence, who threw it to Leo Lyons for a reverse layup.
Just one second passed between the Price turnover at one end and the Lyons basket at the other. After the Huskies controlled the pace for most of the first half, chaotic Missouri-style basketball controlled the game.
"We could sense that they were on their heels," Missouri guard J.T. Tiller said. "We're used to that. In the second half, we like to get them worn out and get them going at our pace."
Lyons' basket was part of a 9-0 run midway through the second half that gave Missouri a one-point lead, its only lead of the game. But the Tigers stayed in front for only 27 seconds. In the end, Connecticut pulled away for an 82-75 victory Saturday in the NCAA West Regional final at University of Phoenix Stadium.
After Connecticut jumped out to a 13-2 lead, Missouri spent the rest of the game trying to battle back. The Tigers were within a possession or two for most of the game, but they just never could make the one extra play they needed.
"They came out, threw the first punch, and we tried to punch back, but we just couldn't get over that hump," senior forward DeMarre Carroll said. "Give credit to Connecticut."
With the loss, Missouri fell one game short of reaching the first Final Four in school history. Missouri has won 21 games in the NCAA Tournament, the second most of any team without reaching at least one Final Four.
"That game right there was a game that we could have won, that we should have won," Lyons said. "It was a couple baskets, a missed shot here, turnover there, that could have changed the whole aspect of that game."
Even in the loss, Missouri coach Mike Anderson was proud of his team's effort.
"If you are going to go out, that's the way you want to go out, fighting, scratching and clawing, giving yourself a chance," Anderson said.
The Tigers came into the season picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 Conference. They ended the year as one of the top eight teams in the country. But even with all they had accomplished, the Tigers were disappointed to not have done more.
"For us to lose that game, I mean, it hit everybody in the heart," Lyons said.
During Missouri's improbable run through the postseason, everything seemed to break in the Tigers' favor.
Kansas and Oklahoma lost early in the Big 12 Tournament, clearing the path for Missouri to win the championship. Marcus Denmon's shot from well beyond halfcourt fell through the net, helping Missouri beat Memphis in the Sweet 16.
On Saturday, Missouri ran out of luck.
Trailing by three points late in the game, Missouri played stifling halfcourt defense. With the shot clock running down, Walker drove into the lane. He ran into Missouri guard Zaire Taylor, paused in the lane for a second, and then forced up a shot that banked off the backboard and fell in.
"We had great defense and ... he banks one in. And you go, 'Whoa, what is taking place?'" Anderson said.