March 10, 2012
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Scott Drew called it a learning experience. Quincy Acy thought Baylor grew up. Perry Jones III was nearly at a loss for words, already trying to figure out what the Bears can do better when the NCAA tournament begins next week.
Fifth-ranked Missouri certainly gave the Bears a lesson in March basketball.
Kim English capped a phenomenal conference tournament with 19 points, Phil Pressey added 15 points and eight assists and the Tigers turned back Baylor 90-75 on Saturday night to win their second championship in the past four years - both of them coming against the Bears.
"The biggest thing we haven't talked about is their experience," Drew said. "They've been through situations like this. They've been through it. And with us, the biggest thing is handling success, playing well two days in a row and being ready for that third day."
In reality, Baylor (27-7) played tremendously two days in a row.
Led by 31 points from Jones, the Bears knocked off Kansas State in the quarterfinals, and then turned back third-ranked Kansas to reach the championship game.
They simply came up short of their first conference tournament title since 1950.
"This hopefully will prepare us for what comes next," Drew said.
The Tigers (30-4), who led from start to finish, will head off to the Southeastern Conference next year savoring a title in coach Frank Haith's first season in charge.
English wound up 29 of 40 from the field in a virtuoso performance in Kansas City, and was named the tournament's most valuable player. Michael Dixon added 17 points, and Ricardo Ratliffe and Marcus Denmon finished with 15 each.
"Obviously it's special. To win championships is just special," Haith said. "We didn't win the regular-season championship, but we won a conference tournament championship."
Missouri's decision to leave for the SEC after this season has drawn outrage from fans of opposing teams because it jeopardized the future of the Big 12. But the Tigers made themselves at home in the Sprint Center, delivering the final punch as they walked out the door.
Brady Heslip scored 14 and Deuce Bello came off the bench to add 13 for the Bears, who were left to watch the Tigers hoist that trophy one more time.
"We just had to get stops," Acy said. "That's pretty much the whole game. We had to get stops and we had to convert easies. That's it."
The two teams waged two memorable games during the regular season, Missouri coming out on top both times. The first was an 89-88 victory in Waco in January, when the Tigers made 10 free throws in the closing minute to hold off a furious rally. The second was a 15-point victory in Columbia, a game that was nip-and-tuck until the Tigers went on a second-half charge.
This one wound up being a bit more like the second meeting.
The teams traded blows throughout the first half - Denmon or English would knock down a 3-pointer, Jones or Quincy Miller would find a way to work inside for a matching bucket. The lead never reached double figures even though Missouri threatened it a couple times.
It wasn't until the final minutes before the half, when Denmon knocked down a jumper and Pressey made two foul shots, that Missouri had some breathing room.
That was part of a 16-5 thrust that spanned the break and gave the Tigers a 57-42 lead, their biggest of the game, and forced Drew to use all but one of his timeouts.
Acy, playing in his school-record 135th game, finally got on the board with a pair of free throws as Baylor began cutting into the lead. Two more foul shots by A.J. Walton nipped it back to single digits, and later in the half, an alley-oop jam by Jones off a half-court feed from Pierre Jackson got Baylor within 64-56.
Missouri seemed to keep finding answers.
Dixon hit a jumper after Perry's rim-rattling dunk, and English knocked down a 3-pointer moments later to restore a double-digit cushion, the swagger-filled junior guard sticking out his tongue and giving a "so-what?" shoulder shrug as he headed back to play defense.
"Kim's play was unbelievable all weekend," Denmon said. "He really carried us."
The Tigers continued to pour it on. Pressey hit a 3-pointer from about 6 feet beyond the arc, and English followed with another from the exact same spot. This time, he exhorted a partisan crowd packed inside the Sprint Center to rise to its feet with a chant of "M-I-Z, Z-O-U!"
Baylor went on one more spirited run, closing within 77-72 after a 10-2 spurt, but the salty Tigers took care of things from the foul line. They made 10 straight at one point in the closing minutes, putting a tidy bow on one final Big 12 championship.
"It's a humbling moment for me, and I'm very honored to have the opportunity I've had here at Mizzou," Haith said. "It's been a special, special year."