Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Missouri's missed opportunity at UCLA

Putting aside for a paragraph the agonizing conclusion, Missouri’s game at UCLA last Friday was a great December college basketball game. Two good teams battling back and forth, a historic venue with a good crowd atmosphere, venerable Bill Walton on the broadcast; the game was thoroughly entertaining. It sure beats playing directional state game after game. Here’s hoping for more of these games in December.

Tiger fans can generally feel good about the way their team competed on the road against a good UCLA team (10-3). The disappointment is for the lost opportunity. This is a game Missouri (10-2) could have won, even led by nine with just over four minutes remaining, but they let it slip away down the stretch, losing 97-94 in overtime.

Guard Phil Pressey was remarkable in the game, scoring 19 points to go with 19 assists, which shattered the old school record of 13.

But as outstanding as Pressey played, he faltered late as the Tigers lost their lead. Through the first 35 minutes, as Mizzou took an 86-77 lead, Pressey had 19 points on 8-for-18 shooting, with a staggering 17 assists against just one turnover. But in the last five minutes of regulation and the five minutes of overtime, he was 0-for-4 shooting with just two assists, four turnovers and no points.

It’s fair to wonder if Pressey wore down, as he played 44 of the 45 minutes. The idealist in me maintains that college players are in their early 20s, and with plenty of TV timeouts, and they should be able to play most of the game and maintain a reasonably high level.

But the one minute Pressey sat out, Missouri’s offense looked bad. It was fascinating, if a bit concerning, how often the Tiger offense seemed to be Pressey driving, then shooting or dishing to an open player as the defense collapsed. Pressey either made the shot or had the assist for 27 of Missouri’s 38 made field goals against UCLA. Something to keep an eye on going forward.

Missouri did post a 42-32 rebounding edge, although the defense needs to get better. The Tigers lost UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad at some key moments and paid for it. They also struggled to contain the Wear twins, who mix size inside with touch outside.

After a week off, Missouri wraps up the nonconference portion of the schedule with a home game against Bucknell on Saturday (3 p.m. on Mizzou Sports Network, check listings for the channel).

The Bison (12-2 through Sunday) have plenty of road experience this season, as this will be their ninth road game, the conclusion of a four-game road swing. Bucknell’s losses are at Penn State and at Princeton. Senior big man Mike Muscala leads Bucknell with 19.4 points per game, 10.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists, through Sunday.

Bucknell is a solid mid-major team, near and dear to the hearts of Missouri fans after its epic upset of Kansas in the 2005 NCAA Tournament as a 14 seed. The Bison have the fourth-highest RPI rating of Missouri’s nonconference opponents, but in front of a sellout crowd, expect the Tigers to get the win.

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