DALLAS – Before the first Border War fans sauntered into American Airlines Center or even crossed the Texas state line, the key to Missouri’s and Kansas’ success was clear: Get the ball inside.
The only question when the two teams met for the second time in less than a week in Friday’s quarterfinal game at the Big 12 Conference Tournament was which team’s big man’s play would be bigger.
“It was a battle down there, bodies banging for position,” Snyder said. “I thought our kids got a little bit more tentative, fighting for space. And I thought we got tired.”
The Jayhawks’ Wayne Simien answered, leading Kansas to a 94-69 romp against Missouri.
After Jayhawks’ freshman forward David Padgett hit the game-winning buzzer-beater against Missouri on Sunday, Missouri coach Quin Snyder said the play was defended as well as he could have hoped for. After all, Simien didn’t get one look at the basket in that precious possession.
He made up for lost time on Friday.
Simien was near perfect in the Jayhawks’ win, scoring a career-best 31 and grabbing game-high 11 rebounds. He missed only two of his 14 field goals and sank all seven of his foul shots.
“We knew they were going to go to him,” Missouri’s Travon Bryant said. “He’s a heck of a player. You can’t take it away from him because they all played a great game.”
Jeff Graves added 14 points, eight of which came from the free-throw line.
The Jayhawks’ post players powered through the Tigers’ defense, outscoring Missouri 40-22 inside. Graves fouled out with 2:30 minutes left to play, but the damage was done.
“Simien made every shot,” Snyder said. “They were as good as any team we’ve played this year.”
Six days after Tigers’ center Arthur Johnson nearly carried his entire team to a Kansas upset on the back of his career-high 37 points, he looked poised to repeat the feat with 15 points at halftime.
But the Jayhawks didn’t forget Johnson’s career mark, either, and at least two Kansas defenders swarmed the Missouri big man every time he touched the ball.
Johnson finished with a team-high 26 points and nine rebounds, but his effort wasn’t even close enough to lift the team this time out.
With power forward Travon Bryant in foul trouble, the Tigers’ help-side defense collapsed against the Jayhawks interior muscle.
Bryant picked up his third foul within the first 30 seconds after halftime and sat for most of the half. He picked up his fourth foul on a charge with 11:32 left to play.
“When Travon went out it really affected the game,” Snyder said. “Jimmy (McKinney), too. We’re really thin at those two positions, and it got us hurried us offensively. We lost our edge defensively.”
The Tigers couldn’t recover on offense, either. While double-teams stifled many of Johnson’s opportunities, the Tigers had few other scoring outlets.
After the Tigers had four players with double-digit scoring totals in Thursday’s 74-68 win against Texas A&M, Johnson was all alone in that category in the loss to the Jayhawks.
Thomas Gardner and Rickey Paulding scored nine each, but they made a combined 5-of-23 field goals, including 2-of-10 shooting from 3-point range.
The last time the Tigers had only one player with double-digit points they lost to Oklahoma 49-47 in the 2003 Big 12 Tournament. Johnson came up big for the Tigers then, too, scoring a game-high 21.
“They just hit shots,” Johnson said. “We played hard, though, but they hit shots. They did a good job tonight of making our mistakes into their points.”
TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES: When the tide of the Tigers’ loss to the Jayhawks turned against his team, Snyder’s temper turned against the officials. Upset with calls not made against the Jayhawks in the second half, Snyder walked past half court to plead his case with one official when he was slapped with a technical foul.
Simien sank both free throws to extend the Jayhawks’ lead to 62-46 with 10 minutes left.
“I was disappointed,” Snyder said. “I objected to some things that I saw out there. If we were going to go down, we weren’t going to go down without a fight.”
It was the Tigers seventh technical foul of the season.
SELFISH STREAK: Friday’s win marked Kansas coach Bill Self’s sixth straight win against the Tigers. In three seasons as Illinois coach, Self’s Fighting Illini claimed three consecutive games against the Tigers.
The Tigers’ only win against the Jayhawks in nine match-ups came in last season’s Big 12 Tournament semifinal game. The Tigers won 68-63.