By Darren Hellwege
The Missouri Tigers stayed on the roll that gave them a big win over Notre Dame the night before, claiming the championship of the CBE Classic with a second night of dominating basketball, defeating California 92-53 in Kansas City’s Sprint Center on Tuesday. With the exception of the rebounding margin, which went to Cal 34-27, the Tigers were in complete control of every aspect of the game from the opening tip until a Jarrett Sutton three-pointer in the final seconds.
Marcus Denmon was named tournament MVP. (Photo by Nick Gerhardt)
Marcus Denmon, who scored 18 points against Cal and 26 against Notre Dame, was named the tournament’s most valuable player. Kim English had 19 points, shooting 7 for 12 and was also named to the all-tournament team with Denmon. But the win was a total team effort, with six players scoring in double digits—Denmon and English plus Matt Pressey (13) Michael Dixon (11) and 10 each from Ricardo Ratliffe and Steve Moore. Of the six, only junior Mike Dixon is not part of the class of 2012.
“We want a championship level program,” said Tiger coach Frank Haith. “When you opportunities to win championships and you’re successful it builds confidence. We won on back-to-back nights with eight guys.” Haith noted that NCAA tournament games are played with a day off in between.
When a team scores 92 points it’s easy to focus on the offense, but the Tigers won on Tuesday as they had the night before with a relentless defense. The Golden Bears, who entered the game ranked No. 23 in the nation, made fewer than 30 percent of their shots. The Bears top player, defending first team All-Pac 10 player Jorge Gutierrez, scored just 11 points and showed his frustration by fouling out with more than 11 minutes left in the game. He committed three fouls within a minute, the final foul an act of vexation after a turnover, his fourth of the night.
Reserve center Steve Moore received the lion’s share of praise in the post-game discussion.
“Steve plays with extraordinary passion and energy,” said Denmon, while English said that during a pause in the game, he had told Denmon “Steve is playing crazy now. He just does what we need, sometimes it doesn’t show it the stats, but tonight it did.”
In addition to his 10 points, Moore had three blocks and three steals. He also had a strong number in a stat that isn’t kept officially, but means a great deal to this team and how it measures success on the defensive end: he had nine “deflections,” times when an opponent’s pass is tipped or dribble is interrupted. It’s a sign of a fierce defense Moore’s been playing this season.
And, of his 10 points, three came in a most unusual way for the Tigers heaviest player, who is usually found within a step or two of the basket. He nailed a three-pointer, drawing a huge response from the passionate Sprint Center crowd.
Asked if he wanted Moore to take the long-range shot, just the third successful three-point shot in his MU career, Haith smiled and simply said, “No.” But Haith did have some very positive things to say about the big man. “Steve’s worked extremely hard and he’s getting better right before our eyes. He just needs more court time now, to get more confidence.”
After averaging just over 10 minutes a game his sophomore season and 11 last year, Moore’s played about 13 minutes a game this year. He logged 19 minutes on Tuesday, including some key time after starter Ratliffe got his third foul just three and a half minutes into the second half.
The Tigers move to 5-0 on the season with the win. While they came into the week getting some national attention, ranked No. 24 by AP and No. 25 by the coaches in the last poll, they’re certain to take a significant leap in next week’s polling with the wins over Notre Dame and Cal, both nationally televised.
Haith seems pleased with the progress that’s been made early in his first season with the Tigers. “This is a good team. We knew coming in there was talent here, we just wanted them to do some things differently. When you have a lot of older players, they can sometimes be stubborn and want to do things the way they’re used to, or they can show poise and make the changes. We got them into the gym and saw what we had, although we didn’t anticipate losing Laurence Bowers. My staff has done a great job, the players are buying in, and that’s exciting.” Bowers was lost for the year to a knee injury shortly before the first practice. He was an honorable mention all-conference player and defensive specialist last year.
Haith admitted he was a little surprised by the margin of victory, noting that Cal is favored to win the Pac-12 conference this year (for those who’ve not noticed, the conference known last year as the Pac-10 has added former Big 12 team Colorado and Utah, and has now swollen into the Pac-12.)
The Tigers will now enjoy a little Thanksgiving turkey and prepare to move back into playing some lighter competition starting on Sunday when they’ll play Binghamton in Mizzou Arena. The Bearcats are 0-4 on the year and were 8-23 last year after winning the America East Conference regular season and tournament titles the year before.