Mizzou guards erupt as Tigers sweep Baylor
Story by Kaveh Kaghazi
Photos by Karen Mitchell
Steve Moore's first points of the game came on this commanding dunk over Baylor's Anthony Jones.
Coming into Saturday’s game against No. 6 Baylor, the Tigers had to find a way to offset the Bears’ enormous size advantage.
The No. 4 Tigers struggled early, before finding a weakness in Baylor’s defense and exploiting it in the second half. Behind a combined 51 points from guards Phil Pressey, Michael Dixon and Marcus Denmon, Missouri knocked off Baylor for the second time this season, 72-57 Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
“At the end of the day when you’re playing Missouri, you’re going to give up something,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “So we decided we were going to give up the three.”
Giving up the three to a team as confident as this Tigers team proved to devastate the Bears. Missouri made Baylor pay for the open looks, connecting on a season-high 14 3-pointers on 28 attempts.
Pressey hit three of seven 3-pointers—tying a season high for attempts. The Tigers (23-2, 10-2) had a hard time finding good scoring opportunities against Baylor’s zone defense early. As the game went on however, the Tigers seemed to do what they’ve been so successful at this season—force the opponent to play the Tigers’ game.
“The game is played away from the basket, that’s to our advantage,” coach Frank Haith said. “If it’s played closer to the basket, that’s to our opponents advantage.”
The game was played on the inside in the first half, as Baylor dominated the rebounding battle. The Bears athletic big men crashed the boards early and often against the Tigers, storming out to a 23-8 rebounding advantage in the first half.
“We understood that Baylor would come out with a high energy level, coming off a loss,” guard Marcus Denmon said.
“And they would try to take advantage of their length and athleticism on the boards. And we let them take advantage of that early… at halftime we understood that it was obvious what we needed to do in the second half.”
Both teams traded blows early in the second half, with Missouri holding on to a one-point lead before a Michael Dixon 3-pointer with 13:08 remaining put the crowd on its feet and gave MU a 41-37 lead. Baylor missed on their next possession, allowing a Missouri fast break capped off by a Steve Moore dunk that brought the house down at Mizzou Arena.
“The crowd does ignite us, I mean we can’t deny it—especially on defense,” Dixon said.
“And once somebody starts hitting some shots, or Steve makes a big play or (English) boxes somebody out…we just feed off that.”
The run put Missouri on top for good, as Baylor (21-4, 8-4) failed to get into rhythm. Freshman Quincy Miller led the Bears with 20 points, but the Baylor big men were held in check. Six-foot 11-inch forward Perry Jones III was held to just four points on 2-for-12 shooting.
“Every night we depend on Perry Jones and for him to struggle like that kind of hurt us,” Baylor forward Anthony Jones said.
Jones came into the game averaging 14 points and seven rebounds. In two games against Missouri this season, he has been held to a combined 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Pressey scored 19, Dixon added 16, as did Denmon who also dished out six assists.
“It feels good,” Dixon said.
“It feels good to make shots and be at home and to play at a certain comfort and…once Marcus mainly started hitting threes, it opened up me and Phil’s shots.”
Missouri is now tied with Kansas for the Big 12 conference lead but owns a victory over Kansas, giving Missouri first place in the conference. The Tigers face Oklahoma State next on the schedule. Haith said his team still has a lot of work to do.
“I think we have to find ways to win games….for us rebounding is a spot that we stress and we’re trying to get better at,” Haith said. “I still think there’s a level this team can get to. I’m excited about where they’re at, but I do think there’s some room that we can get better.”
As most coaches are forced to do against this Missouri team, Drew had to pick his poison. Rather than letting Pressey drive and create for his teammates, Drew opted to let the Tigers have their 3-point opportunities.
“When Missouri is on, there is nobody in the country as good as them offensively, Drew said. “You’ve got to hope they’re not on. And they’ve been on a lot this year.”