Ricardo Ratliffe was perfect from the field, but the second-half foul trouble he and Laurence Bowers got into was key in the Tigers' demise against Kansas. (Photo by JJ Stankevitz)
It’s amazing Allen Fieldhouse was still illuminated with time winding down on Monday night’s game between the Tigers and the Jayhawks, because Kansas shot the lights out. (Bad puns can be fun, right?) The Jayhawks shot 60 percent from the field, and 57 percent from three-point land to run away with a 103-86 victory over Mizzou.
For a while there, we all thought some sort of miracle was about to happen as the Tigers played a tremendous first half, trailing the rival Jayhawks by just four points heading into the locker room at halftime. But a bevy of fouls piled up for Mizzou early in the second half, and Kansas let loose from three to put away the upstart Tigers by the midway point of the half.
It was easy to figure out why the Tigers received their fifth road loss of conference play, between the fouls and the threes. Mizzou watched three of its starters – including starting big men Ricardo Ratliffe and Laurence Bowers, as well as Phil Pressey – foul out by game’s end. The foul trouble Ratliffe and Bowers found themselves in early in the second half was probably the biggest blow to Mizzou’s upset chances, as the duo did most of the scoring for the Tigers. They combined for 21 points in the first half and another 10 in the second. Pressey finished with 17 points, including four three-pointers.
While those two areas were the main contributors to the game slipping away from the Tigers, Mizzou was also outrebounded by 18, outassisted by seven and outstolen and outblocked by one. The Jayhawks’ scoring barrage ended with triple digits, a rare feat during conference play. It’s the second time this season Mizzou has let up 100 points in a loss, the first coming in their overtime loss to Georgetown. Second chance opportunities were numerous for KU as well, with the Jayhawks grabbing 14 offensive boards.
This wasn’t expected to go well for the Tigers. Heading into Lawrence to face the No. 2 team in the country with no conference road wins this season, Mizzou was the definition of an underdog. Their stellar first half, in which they shot 57 percent from the field using a patient offensive system to get good looks, gave the Tiger Nation a little too much hope. Once the fouls sent player after player to the bench, Mizzou couldn’t keep up with the hot-shooting Hawks.
Some Tiger fans will talk about the team in hockey terms, referring to a first and second line. It’s an apt description given Mike Anderson likes to rotate in an entire five-man unit at a time. Monday, his starting unit was terrific. The first line of Bowers, Ratliffe, the two Presseys and Marcus Denmon played great, especially in the first half. They were doing an admirable job at both ends of the floor, and they were playing some of the best set offense we’ve seen from Mizzou in quite some time. But, as they needed a breather, the second line could not keep up. The Mizzou bench accounted for just eight points in the first half. Throw in the fact that the Kansas reserves played terrific, and you have a recipe for disaster. Fortunately for the Tigers, the starters played enough minutes in the first half to keep Mizzou in the game. Once they all got into foul trouble in the second, they had to sit down and watch the game get out of reach.
As I mentioned before, the Tigers certainly weren’t expected to win this game, and I think that perspective should certainly be taken. This was a Mizzou team that hasn’t won a road conference game all year, and the odds weren’t great they were going to earn their first at Allen Fieldhouse, arguably the toughest place to play in the country. Then you stack them up against the No. 2 team in the nation, which has just one loss to its name all season. Mizzou, by the way, fell to No. 20 in Monday’s freshest batch of AP top 25 rankings. A win was most likely not in the cards. So applaud the Tigers for the first half they played, most likely frightening Kansas into their dominant second half. The Jayhawks aren’t a national basketball powerhouse because of bad coaching.
To take one final glance at the box score, let’s read the stat lines of Kim English and Denmon, the guards who entered the season as Mizzou’s most prolific scorers. Denmon, the team’s leading scorer and candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year, scored just two points in the first half. He added nine in the second to earn a total of 11 points, but his usual self wasn’t there Monday. The Tigers have learned to count on him for his average of around 16 points, and Monday he couldn’t make it happen. Sure, he’ll have nights like this one, and we don’t want to levy the term “inexcusable,” it’s just a red flag in a loss. English, meanwhile, scored just six points for the whole game, a contributing factor to Mizzou’s woeful bench play. Tiger reserves accounted for just 16 points, and two players – Steve Moore and Ricky Kreklow – didn’t score at all. English had a high-scoring night Saturday, putting up 21 points against Colorado, but he made just one basket Monday.
Perspective is a term I’ll repeat, because it’s senseless to get too worked up over a road loss to No. 2. The Tigers’ tournament hopes do not hang in the balance because they fell to a team many consider college basketball’s best. They challenged them in the first half, and I would hope it’s 20 minutes of film Anderson uses over and over again, because it was probably the best half any Tiger fan could have asked for. Mizzou will follow this up with two home games in a row against Oklahoma and Texas Tech, who combine for a .500 record this season.
Just one last, mostly unrelated thought. Did you see the pictures ESPN showed of Kansas’ Tyrel Reed after the Jayhawks reportedly very physical practice? I had just one thought on my mind:
The first rule of Kansas basketball fight club: don’t talk about Kansas basketball fight club.