When most people were hoping for an epic conclusion to the Border War in the Big XII Tournament title game, only one team held up their end of the bargain. No. 5 Missouri (29-4) cruised to 81-67 victory over the Texas Longhorns (20-13) in yesterday’s semifinal game. The first semifinal of the night, however, was the headline-grabber. No. 11 Baylor (27-6) defeated No. 3 Kansas (27-6), the tournament’s top seed, 81-72 to keep the Jayhawks from reaching the final and creating Kansas-Missouri III in the title game.
Instead it will be a rematch of the 2009 Big XII title game, when DeMarre Carroll’s 20 points led Mizzou to a 73-60 victory over the Bears, giving the Tigers their first Big XII basketball title. Baylor was the ninth seed and 20-14 that year, but this year’s Baylor team is much more formidable and is playing some of the best basketball they have played all year. The Bears lost handily in their first two games against Kansas this season, 92-74 in Lawrence and 68-54 in Waco, but were able to beat back the Jayhawks in their third try with a balanced scoring effort. Six Baylor players scored in double figures, including 18 from sophomore forward Perry Jones III (13.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG), who was coming off a 31 point, 11 rebound game against Kansas State in the quarterfinals. Baylor led by 13 early in the second half, but Kansas made a run, behind 20 points from senior guard Tyshawn Taylor (17.3 PPG, 4.8 APG) to take the lead midway through the half. But Baylor was able to hang on and fend off KU, using two dagger threes from sophomore guard Brady Heslip (9.5 PPG, 43.2 3P%) in the final minutes to seal the deal.
The Missouri Tigers had a little easier time dealing with their semifinal opponent, taking the lead with 15 minutes left in the first half and never giving it back. Their scoring was not as balanced as it usually is, but dominant performances from senior guard Kim English (14.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG) and sophomore guard Phil Pressey (9.9 PPG, 6.3 APG) led them to victory. English scored 23 points on 9-10 shooting, while Pressey, who had 12 assists the night before against Oklahoma State, passed up the role of distributer to add a career-high 23 points of his own. Senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe (13.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG) added 18 points and 14 rebounds, his eighth double-double of the year. Texas got the production it usually gets from the Big XII’s leading scorer junior guard J’Covan Brown (20.1 PPG, 3.8 APG), but had no other player score over 11 points. Despite outrebounding Mizzou 37-27, the Tigers’ shooting 52.6% from the field and hitting 10 threes proved to be too much to handle for Texas.
Now the Bears and the Tigers can turn their attention to earning a Big XII championship today at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Baylor is trying to become the first team from Texas to win the tournament, while Mizzou would be more than pleased to leave the Big XII for the SEC next year with another basketball championship. Mizzou swept the regular season series, winning 89-88 in Waco on Jan. 21 and 72-57 in Columbia on Feb. 11. Despite Missouri being undersized against a big, athletic Baylor team, Missouri was able to exploit matchups in their favor in the first two meetings, especially at the guard play. Phil Pressey has had great offensive success against the Bears this season, scoring 18 in the first game and 19 in the second. Ricardo Ratliffe had a huge game in Waco, scoring 27 points and grabbing eight rebounds, but was held to only six points in the second game.
Baylor freshman forward Quincy Miller (11.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG) has been the only player who played effectively against Missouri in both games this season. Miller has averaged 24.5 PPG against Missouri, but that has not been enough to carry the team. Baylor was very good offensively in Waco, shooting 57.1% and had four players score in double figures, including 18 from senior forward Quincy Acy (12.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG) and 20 points and 15 assists from junior guard Pierre Jackson (13.4 PPG, 5.8 APG). Miller led all scorers in that game with 29 points, but Baylor was only able to get three points from their bench and was outscored 22-9 from the free throw line, which proved to be the difference in the game. Baylor’s offense was stymied in Columbia, shooting just 36.2% and committing 12 turnovers. Miller again had a big game with 20 points, but was the only Baylor player to score in double figures. One player who was surprisingly silent in both games was Perry Jones III, who averaged just six points in both games. Jones stands at 6’11”, two to three inches taller than Mizzou’s forwards, but was unable to perform in a matchup that he should have dominated on paper.
Jones III has looked much better as of late, leading his team to the title game with monster games. If Jones plays like he did against Kansas State, where he had a career high 31 points, Baylor may finally be able to exploit the size advantage they have inside against Missouri, which they failed to do the first two meetings. However, Baylor has had defensive problems of their own when playing Mizzou, and the man-to-man defense they used to rattle Kansas in the semifinals may not be quick enough for the Tigers’ elite guards. The Bears can also go zone defensively, but Mizzou also has the capability to shoot over the top of it from long range. Mizzou senior guard Marcus Denmon (17.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG) was 0-10 from the field against Texas and finished with just two points, and will have to be much more effective in today’s final. Another concern for Mizzou is the health of Kim English. English suffered a thigh contusion late in yesterday’s game. He returned to the game and was able to go through this morning’s shootaround without problems. He is expected to play, but may not be at 100%.
The Big XII final is ripe with terrific matchups, with the speed and quickness of Missouri’s guards versus the length and athleticism of Baylor’s bigs. Missouri was able to win behind strong guard play in the regular season, but Baylor has looked extremely good in the tournament. Whether it’s the shiny new neon green uniforms, or the emergence of Perry Jones III, who is playing to his full potential, the Bears are a dangerous team right now. Mizzou will need excellent play from its guards today and win its matchups on the outside. Getting Ricardo Ratliffe going inside would be a huge plus for Mizzou, but he struggled last time out against the Bears. Jones hasn’t hurt the Tigers yet this year, but he will need to be kept in check today for Mizzou to pull out the win. If Mizzou can get production across the board from its guards and not let Baylor’s bigs bully them inside, Mizzou will have a chance to take the Big XII crown in their final year in the conference.