Missouri wheelchair basketball undefeated in Tiger Classic

Missouri won the Tiger Classic for the first time since its inception.
Freshman Connor Downes attempts a shot against the Waukesha Thunder during the first game of the Tiger Wheelchair Basketball Classic on Saturday in Brewer Fieldhouse. The Tigers defeated the Thunder, 55-43.

After facing three teams at the Fourth Annual Tiger Wheelchair Basketball Classic, Missouri managed to come out undefeated (5-0) and win the tournament.

The Tigers started the two-day tournament, hosted by MU on March 6 and March 7 at the Student Recreation Complex, with a 55-43 victory over the Waukesha Thunder, the 2008 Division 3 National Championship runner-up.

The second game of the tournament matched the Tigers up with rival Kansas Wheelhawks, who were No. 15 in the nation as of Feb. 22 by the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. The Tigers came out on top with a 58-42 win.

In the final preliminary game, Missouri faced the Minnesota Junior Timberwolves, ranked No. 1 in the Junior Division. The Tigers led the Junior Timberwolves the entire game, starting off the second half with a 21-16 lead and ending the game 45-35.

Senior Student Service Coordinator Steve Paxton said though the level of competition was very high, Missouri had the edge going into the tournament.

"Our biggest advantage going into the tournament is that we get to practice every day," Paxton said. "It's a really solid field out there; we didn't have an easy win all day. It's scary to think how good they would be if they had the same or more resources."

The second day of the tournament started at 9 a.m. with the semifinal matches. Missouri was paired up against the Junior Timberwolves, No. 1 and No. 4 seeds, respectively, and the Wheelhawks played the Thunder, No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.

Missouri defeated the Timberwolves 50-27, keeping its No. 1 spot and advancing to the finals against the Waukesha Thunder, which would see the Tigers achieve a 54-35 championship victory.

Coach Ron Lykins said Missouri's success in the tournament was a good measure of the team's improvement and a possible vision into the future of the season.

"We have a national tournament in two weeks," Lykins said. "This tournament was a great way to test our improvement throughout the season, but we have to keep improving over the next two weeks."

Lykins said the Tigers played considerably better on the second day of the tournament.

"Yesterday we did really well in stretches, but we would let the other team close the gap later on in the game," Lykins said. "We played really well as a team in both games today, though."

The Tiger's championship victory marked the first time in the Tiger Wheelchair Basketball Classic's four-year history that Missouri left the court with a first place finish.

"We've been working so hard all season, and every team played really hard today," senior guard Andrew Tucker said. "This is the first year we've won the tournament though, so it feels really good to know that we finally did it."

The Tiger Wheelchair Basketball team will compete March 18 through March 20 in the 33rd National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament hosted by Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minn.

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