GLENDALE, ARIZ. -- Missouri coach Mike Anderson admitted that if someone had told him before the season that his team would be one victory from the Final Four, he'd have asked, "What are you smoking and drinking?"
Missouri is in that position after defeating Memphis 102-91 (RECAP | BOX SCORE) in an exhausting game Thursday at the University of Phoenix Stadium. Two teams prefer to play at a ragged pace raced from the start, but it was Missouri and point guard J.T. Tiller (career-high 23 points) who won the endurance test and a spot in the Elite 8.
"Wow, you wanted an up-tempo game that was a up-tempo game," Anderson said. "We came out and took the fight to Memphis early on and got some confidence in ourselves."
Memphis trailed by as many as 24 points, and fell behind by so much so early that Memphis coach John Calipari described it as like getting "punched in the mouth." Memphis tried different defenses, went with small and big lineups, but nothing could stop Missouri.
"They were even better than I thought," Calipari said. "No one has done this to use before. They beat us at our own game. If you would have told me would shoot 50 percent and out-rebound them [40-37] and have only 14 turnovers, I would have said we would have won."
Three things we learned:
1. The officials let them play. With Missouri up 19 and 15 minutes remaining, Memphis forward Shawn Taggart wrapped his arm around the neck of Missouri's DeMarre Carroll. It was just short of a sleeper hold yet there was no whistle, and Taggart only removed him arm to retrieve a loose rebound. It wasn't that physical all game but it was close. The number of fouls called (50) was misleading, as much of those occurred late as Memphis fought to get back in the game.
"It was very physical, very bump and grind, but you got to play through that," Calipari said.
2. Memphis could have used a true point guard like Tiller.Tyreke Evans was spectacular (33 points), but watching the way Tiller (zero turnovers) settled the Tigers at key points in the game contrasted starkly with what Evans and Antonio Anderson gave Memphis. They scored a ton, sure, but they also rushed attempts early in the shot clock and, all in all, did an average job handling Missouri's pressure (11 combined turnovers). Memphis didn't need a point guard as good as, say, Derrick Rose, but it could have used a quick floor leader to guard Tiller, help with the pressure, and know when to play for the better shot. Anderson jacked (and missed) a quick three-pointer after Memphis had pulled within eight points late in the second half that was the epitome of a momentum sapper.
3. Free throws didn't hurt Memphis this time. As usual, the Tigers shot atrociously from the charity stripe (18 for 32, 56 percent), the one exception being Evans (nine for nine), but so did Missouri (30 for 45, 66 percent). "We'll have to work on that," Mike Anderson said.
Player who impressed me
Robert Dozier. For much of the game Calipari urged his guards to get the ball inside to the 6-9 Dozier, who had his way around the basket when he received a pass. He made eight of 11 shots for 19 points to go with 16 rebounds. It was a heck of final game for the versatile senior, who would seem likely to find a role on an NBA team in the future.
With less than two minutes remaining, Mike Anderson sent junior forward Keith Ramsey to the scorer's table. As he waited to enter the game, Mike Anderson shouted, "Keith, you can play defense, right?" and smiled wide. It took a second but Ramsey got the joke. There isn't a player on Missouri who can't play defense.
Connecticut is not going to run with Missouri the way that Memphis did, and given how much trouble Dozier and Taggart gave the Tigers, it would be easy to say that the Huskies' 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet might go for 30 points and 20 rebounds. But people few thought the Tigers would get past Memphis and if they can fluster A.J. Price (not likely) or get him in foul trouble (possible) they could pull off the upset.