A win in the end

Sports are like women.

We really do love them, but they sure are hard to understand.

There's also a big difference --- If a Sumo wrestler asks: "Do I look fat in this?" you're safe to answer yes.

Back to the similarities: For the game's first 23 minutes Tuesday night, the Missouri Tigers played donkey basketball without the donkeys. In front of a gathering of 11,180 fans, this game put the ugh in ugly.

But in the end, the No. 22 Tigers were able to overcome a 13-point deficit in the final 17 minutes to edge past the struggling South Carolina Gamecocks 71-65 at Mizzou Arena.

This game did the sport of basketball no favors, as it had all the artistic success of Roseanne Barr singing the National Anthem. Or Hillary Clinton doing a pole dance.

"It obviously wasn't a pretty basketball game," Tigers coach Frank Haith said, "but I thought our guys really competed."

Last year's Missouri team had no size, but was quick and could shoot and handle the ball.

This year's team has little quickness, can't shoot or handle the ball, but they have size --- a bunch of big, muscular guys who look like Tarzan, but too often play like Jane.

During the game, Haith slowly started undressing like he was going to take a shower. Off went the jacket, then the tie, slacks, shirt ... well, except for the slacks and shirt.

By the second half, Haith looked like an insurance salesman on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

The Tigers, who were two-touchdown favorites --- that would be 14 points if you're not a football fan --- tossed up 14 3-pointers in the first half alone. They missed their first 13, shot 20 percent overall from the field (6-of-30), and the Gamecocks held a 35-27 halftime lead.


A few other things worth nothing. The Tigers (14-4, 3-2 SEC) had more turnovers (10) than field goals in the first half.

"We had so many turnovers, it was like we were trying to blow them out in the first few minutes and not taking care of the ball," Tigers coach Frank Haith said. "And I thought we settled a lot in the first half, taking the first look we had, and we have to stop that."

The Gamecocks (11-7, 1-4) are coached by Frank Martin, who seems to have the Tigers' number. While coaching Kansas State last season, Martin's Wildcats swept Haith's Tigers, and handed Missouri its only home loss of the year.

Martin is a drill sergeant with no military background. He's the college basketball cartoon version of American Dad ... broad shoulders, square chin and an attitude.

His teams play like their coach.

We should also note that Martin and South Carolina lost to a team called Elon this season. At home. By 12.

"The way South Carolina plays and the way Frank's teams play," Haith said, "they play physical and aggressive. I knew it would be that type of game."

The Tigers have their injuries, as leading scorer Laurence Bowers (knee) and Keion Bell (ankle) are out. And it showed, as the Gamecocks' lead grew to 41-28 with 17 minutes left.

The Tigers answered with a 20-2 explosion --- which seemed to come from nowhere --- to take a 48-43 lead with 11:50 left after a fast-break score by Jabari Brown. Just 31 seconds later, however, Missouri's one constant force this season --- junior guard Phil Pressey --- went to the bench with his fourth foul.

"With Phil's foul trouble and our injuries," Haith said, "I thought we managed that part of the game very well."

Another force on this night --- although he's certainly been an inconsistent force this season --- was the 18-point, 11-rebound effort of Alex Oriakhi.


But in Saturday's ugly 31-point loss at Florida, Oriakhi --- a 6-9, 255-pound senior --- mustered just four points and two rebounds.


"We really challenged Alex after the Florida game and I think he responded," Haith said. "He played really big."

It still came down to the wire Tuesday night, and it came down to a pair of 3-pointers that finally fell (the Tigers were 5-of-27 behind the arc.) The first was a tie-breaking 3-ball by Earnest Ross from the top of the key with 1:10 left that gave the Tigers a 66-63 lead.

"It's a play we haven't run for a while," Ross said, "but coach Haith drew it up and it worked."

Then came the game-clincher, as Brown canned a 3-pointer off an assist from Ross, to give the Tigers a 69-65 lead --- and a two-possession lead --- with 14 seconds left. Tony Criswell finished it with two free throws with 5 seconds left.

"I'm proud of our guys and their execution late in the game," Haith said. "Those guys knocked them down."

Ross led the Tigers with 21 points and Brown added 17.

"It doesn't matter how, really," Ross said, "we just needed to get the win."