In the end, it was the same story of the last two years: Missouri got outshot, outrebounded and simply outplayed against a better team in a loss at an underfilled Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers tried to pull off a potential turnaround win against No. 20 Arizona (8-2), but an upset wasn’t in the cards for third-year head coach Kim Anderson. Mizzou (5-4) fell far behind in the first half and couldn’t quite dig itself out of the hole as the Tigers fell to the Wildcats, 79-60.
Of Missouri’s nonconference slate, this game would have been its best chance to turn the current dismal state of the program on its head — an early home game nationally broadcasted on ESPN2 against a shorthanded, jet-lagged foe. Mizzou went on some promising runs, but the deficit proved too large for the Tigers to overcome.
The same issues that have plagued the Tigers all season — slow starts keyed by poor shooting, inexperience (Mizzou is one of the 10 youngest teams in Division I) and a relative lack of size — were on display Saturday morning.
They dug themselves into an 8-0 hole in the first four minutes, starting cold from the field until sophomore guard Cullen VanLeer knocked down a three. Arizona responded with several three-balls of its own; after Tigers freshman shooting guard Frankie Hughes airballed a shot from deep, Arizona freshman 7-footer Lauri Markkanen knocked one down from beyond the arc, stretching the lead to 13-3 and putting Mizzou in an inescapable double-digit hole. While the Tigers put together a few promising point strings, they never led in the game. Mizzou went on a late run at the end of the first half and cut the UA lead to just five points at the break.
The Wildcats were feeling it from all over the floor in the first half, knocking down 50 percent of their looks from the field and seven of 14 from beyond the arc. The Tigers, propelled by their late push, shot better than they have in most first halves this year: 37.9 percent from the field and three of 10 from three.
Mizzou chose to change up its defensive looks throughout the game. Arizona coach Sean Miller noted that the Tigers played man-to-man, the typical 2-3 zone, a 1-3-1 zone and, unfamiliar to him, a 3-2 zone.
“They really mixed their defenses up tonight,” Miller said. “It’s difficult to do that many things within a game. I think what they wanted us to do is dare us to take some threes and test us, but we passed the test because our three guards had great nights from three tonight.”
Arizona guards Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins and Kadeem Allen combined to shoot 11 of 21 from three-point range, burying the Tigers in the second half.
One area Mizzou was able to do some damage in was drawing fouls. In the first half, they managed to get two fouls each on four Arizona starters: Markkanen, Keanu Pinder and Dusan Ristic. All five starters had picked up their second foul less than two minutes into the second half; Tigers point guard Terrence Phillips, though, picked up his third just seconds into the half. Markkanen ended up fouling out with 2:56 to play, but with his Wildcats leading big.
Sophomore forward Kevin Puryear stepped out and buried a three to cut the Arizona lead to four, but Missouri couldn’t capitalize on its next possession as senior forward Russell Woods missed a dunk and Hughes missed a tough layup.
A few minutes later, Arizona stretched its lead to double digits, again keyed by a couple of threes by Alkins; the Tigers never seriously threatened in the game.
“We came out flat and they came out hot, so that’s the difference in winning and losing basketball games,” Puryear said.
Kim Anderson acknowledged his team’s struggles to complete the comeback.
“In the second half early, we had some chances, but they went on a great run, and, for all practical purposes, put the game out of reach,” he said.
It was a disappointing end to the second half and to the game for Mizzou, who struggled even more from the field and from the free-throw line. Mizzou shot just nine of 17 from the line in the second half and finished at 32.7 percent from the field on the game. Arizona finished a scorching 54.2 percent from three-point land as they blistered the Tigers from beyond the arc throughout the game.
The 45-41 score was the closest Mizzou got. Arizona dominated the second half and coasted to an easy win, 79-60.
“I’m disappointed at the score,” Anderson said. “I thought that we competed really well for about 25 minutes and we went on a little dry spell.”
Foiled in what looked at halftime like a potential upset bid, Mizzou gets a week without games as the first semester comes to a close. Texas transfer Jordan Barnett will be eligible to play in the Tigers’ next contest at 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 17 against Eastern Illinois at Mizzou Arena.
Edited by Eli Lederman | email@example.com