The great debate throughout much of the weekend's Big 12 Conference Tournament centered around who “owns” the city of Kansas City among Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri.
After both teams from the Sunflower State bowed out early, the Tigers were the only of the three left standing Saturday. And after knocking off No. 3 seed Baylor 90-75 in their final Big 12 game, it was evident: This weekend, the Tigers ran this town.
“Um, I mean, this is Kansas City, Missouri,” junior guard Mike Dixon said emphatically.
Five Tigers call Kansas City home, and it was only fitting that it was two of them who added the exclamation point to Missouri’s championship victory.
With just more than a minute to play and Missouri up 83-72, senior guard and Kansas City native Marcus Denmon dished the ball to fellow senior and Kansas City native Steve Moore, who was streaking to the hole. Moore elevated with two hands, slamming the ball through the hoop and slamming the door on Missouri’s tenure as a member of the Big 12.
A minute later, no time remained and the Missouri Tigers were conference champs for the second time ever.
“We won it my freshman year and that was amazing, but it didn’t feel as good as this,” senior Kim English said.
English recorded a game-high 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting Saturday to go along with his team-high six rebounds. During the weekend’s three games, the senior totaled 69 points on 78 percent shooting.
“Our guards did a really good job of D’ing people up, up top and the shots I got were a testament to coach Haith and his staff finding deficiencies in their defense and our guards getting us baskets in transition,” English said.
Not surprisingly, English was named Big 12 Tournament MVP.
“Kimmie’s a tremendous player, and he’s just in a good mindset right now,” Dixon said. “He’s very mentally ready and focused.”
English’s approach to the weekend centered on defense, not offense.
“The mental approach was 100 percent defense, what were we going to do to stop them, how were we going to stop them,” English said. “Offensively, our team is so good and deep in offensive talent you never know who it’s going to be, but if you really consume yourself in getting stops you’re going to get a lot of easy baskets in transition.”
Not to be overlooked was the marvelous play of sophomore point guard Phil Pressey, who also played some of his best basketball in Kansas City.
Pressey scored 15 points Saturday on 4-of-8 shooting in addition to grabbing five rebounds and dishing out eight assists, all while committing just one turnover.
Pressey finished the tournament with 42 points and 24 assists.
The Tigers jumped out to an early 8-2 lead and never looked back, as they never trailed.
After not hitting a field goal in Friday night's 81-67 victory over Texas, Denmon found the score sheet early Saturday, scoring 11 points in the first half.
The two teams traded buckets for the majority of the half, with Missouri holding a 43-37 advantage at the midway point after playing much of the game’s opening frame at a blistering pace.
The Tigers roared out to a 13-5 run to start the second half to stretch the lead to 56-42 with 15:45 remaining. The back-and-forth action continued, as the Missouri lead varied from an eight-point advantage to a 12-point advantage for much of the half.
A 10-2 Baylor run narrowed the gap to just five with 2:20 left. With senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe fouled out and Moore in trouble with four fouls of his own, the pendulum could have easily tilted in Baylor’s favor.
But the Tigers did what they had to, getting defensive stops and making their next six free throws to ensure the Big 12 championship trophy would accompany them on their trip back to Columbia.
At a stoppage in play with 50 seconds remaining, a rambunctious chant of "S-E-C, S-E-C" broke out from the Missouri faithful among the 19,006 in attendance, serving as the proverbial cherry on top as an era came to an end Saturday.
“The atmosphere today was tremendous,” Haith said. “Mizzou nation was unbelievable. We drove up today before the game, and I don’t know, 1,000 maybe fans were standing outside the gate as we pulled in, and I got emotional, that was unbelievable.”
Five Tigers finished with at least 15 points. English led scorers with 19, Dixon had 17 and Denmon, Pressey and Ratliffe had 15 apiece.
Sophomore forward Perry Jones III was Baylor’s leading scorer and rebounder, totaling 16 points and grabbing 11 boards.
The tournament championship was Missouri’s second ever in the school's fourth appearance in the final round. The Tigers’ first title came in the 2009 tournament, when they also beat Baylor.
The rest of the Big 12 might have been hoping the door would hit Missouri on the Tigers’ way out, but after steamrolling Baylor for their third victory in as many days, Missouri will be taking both the Sprint Center’s nets and the Big 12’s trophy with them, all the way to the Southeastern Conference.