Tigers present problems, intrigue

The Missouri Tigers headed home last Wednesday to spend four days licking their wounds following what seemed an unfathomable loss to 12th-seeded Nebraska in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.

"One thing about young guys, they bounce back," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said after the 75-60 defeat at the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City. "They've got resiliency. They're down today, and the sun will come up tomorrow -- hopefully, it will come up -- and they'll understand it's a new day."

Missouri has lost three of four, against Kansas State, Kansas and then Nebraska, and it needed overtime to edge Iowa State. The team's offense has sputtered during that stretch, shooting just 36.4 percent from the field, including a 19-for-56 performance against the Huskers. The Tigers have made only 18 of their past 80 3-point attempts as well. The defense also let down against Nebraska, which shot 55.8 percent from the field, better than any Missouri opponent this season. The Huskers delivered a blow to Missouri's confidence as it waits to learn it NCAA Tournament fate on Selection Sunday.

"All sickness is not death," Anderson said. "They're just sick right now. Hopefully, the cure of that is they'll get a call and they're in the tournament."

NEBRASKA 75, MISSOURI 60: Brandon Richardson scored a career-high 19 points to lead four Nebraska players in double figures as the 12th-seeded Cornhuskers shocked the Tigers in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.

Richardson scored 14 of his points after intermission, including a four-point play after the Tigers, who trailed by as many as 19, had fought back within 10 points in the last four minutes. That was one of several back-breaking shots by Nebraska, which worked the shot clock and made 55.8 percent of its field-goal attempts, including eight of 14 from beyond the 3-point arc. The Huskers held Missouri to 33.9 percent shooting, including a combined 7-for-33 performance from starting guards Zaire Taylor, Kim English and J.T. Tiller.

Laurence Bowers was the only Tiger to reach double figures, finishing with 11. Doc Sadler's team became only the second No. 12 seed to advance in the Big 12 tournament, joining Colorado, which beat fifth-seeded Baylor 91-84 in overtime in 2008.


One of the biggest drawbacks all season for Missouri was obviously evident in a loss the Tigers suffered to close the regular season. Playing at home, Missouri could not protect the paint as the Tigers were overwhelmed inside by powerful Kansas in a 77-56 wipeout on March 6.

The 53 wins Missouri has generated over the past two seasons are the sixth most among Division I programs. It also represents the second-best total in MU history over a two-year span. (Getty Images)
The bigger Jayhawks continually pushed the ball inside, either off feeds or dribble penetration and had little problem solving the Tigers' pressure. Unfortunately for Missouri, pressure is what makes the team click, especially when it can score in transition off steals, turnovers or outlets.

But the contribution inside is often spotty. Much of the season Missouri missed the two bookends that were leaders for last year's Elite Eight squad, DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons. Then, when Justin Safford was lost for the season with an ACL tear, the frontcourt grew thin while depending heavily on Keith Ramsey and Laurence Bowers. Those two combined for 18 points and 12 rebounds against Kansas, which claimed a 45-28 advantage on the boards. Just one Tiger, guard J.T. Tiller, shot better than 50 percent against the Jayhawks as the Tigers finished with a .354 percentage.

The separation for Missouri from the top of the Big 12 is reflected in the statistics from two losses to conference champion Kansas. In the two games, the Tigers lost by 20 points on average, were outrebounded 101-56 and outshot .508 to .325.

--The 53 wins Missouri has generated over the past two seasons are the sixth most among Division I programs. It also represents the second-best total in MU history over a two-year span.

ON THE SPOT: Missouri has a clutch shooter to look for in tight finishes in guard Zaire Taylor. The latest heroics came in a March 2 overtime win at Iowa State when Taylor drove the length of the floor for the game-winner, which was the fourth of his career. He followed, however, with just five points on 2-for-9 shooting against Kansas.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL SEASON RECAP: Missouri can influence games with its defense as well as any team in the Big 12. It leads the conference in steals (11.0) and turnover margin (plus-6.6) and often gets opponents off stride with pressure, which the Tigers initiate in backcourt. The one problem the Tigers encounter is cold shooting, which prohibits them from capitalizing on the turnovers and misses they create.

PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Keith Ramsey, F Laurence Bowers, G Zaire Taylor, G Kim English (leading scorer - 13.9 points/game), G J.T. Tiller. Key Subs -- G Marcus Denmon, G Michael Dixon, C Steve Moore.

POSTSEASON OUTLOOK: With 22 victories, including 10 in a Big 12 Conference ranked as the toughest in the country, and an RPI of 39, Missouri was a lock for an NCAA Tournament bid. But the loss to Nebraska surely hurt the Tigers' seed. Whereas they once seemed to be climbing toward a No. 6, they have dropped three of their past four games since Justin Safford went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. In the process, they slipped to a 10 seed.

ROSTER REPORT: --Sophomore F Laurence Bowers coped with a sprained left wrist and scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead Missouri in both categories in the loss to Nebraska. The Tigers need at least that type of production from Bowers because, with Justin Safford sidelined by a torn knee ligament, he remains their top threat along the frontline. But his own wrist injury could hinder his effectiveness in the postseason.

--Senior G J.T. Tiller had the all-around performance Missouri fans have come to expect over the past two seasons. He made only three of eight shots but had five assists, three rebounds and five steals in 33 minutes Wednesday. He was one of the few Tigers who made Nebraska uncomfortable when it had the ball on the offensive end.

--Senior G Zaire Taylor can't find his shooting stroke. He's gone 10-for-43 from the field in the past four games. Missouri has dealt with inconsistent shooting from sophomores such as Kim English and Marcus Denmon most of the season, but Mike Anderson has been counting on his seniors to provide some stability. It hasn't happened, with Taylor missing even the most open looks.

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