Sun, 02 Feb 2014 03:37:56 GMT —
COLUMBIA --- There's something about teams in Blue and White that bring out the basketball best in the Black and Gold.
In most cases, it's just not quite good enough.
But the level of passion, intensity and in the case of one team, hate, these games are unmatched.
When hosting dreaded Kansas, it was the one game a year when M-I-Z didn't end with Z-O-U. The Tigers had their share of memorable wins against the Jayhawks, but there were a lot more memorable losses.
We miss you, Kansas. Here's wishing you bad luck the rest of the season.
Exit Kansas, enter the Kentucky Wildcats. No hate, just two hours of simple sports dislike. Because on this day, M-I-Z always ended with Z-O-U.
It also ended with another loss for the Tigers. Once again, just not quite good enough.
After building a 16-point lead in the second half, the No. 11 Wildcats held off a furious charge by the Tigers --- a charge fueled by amazing efforts from Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson --- to notch an 84-79 win before an electric gathering of 11,742 fans at Mizzou Arena on Saturday.
"This is pretty big, especially in this building," said Kentucky freshman sensation Julius Randle, a 6-9, 250-pound manchild, who totaled 18 points and a game-high nine rebounds. "It's a tough environment to play in."
Said Tigers coach Frank Haith: "I thought the fans were really great and I'm encouraged by how hard we played. I thought we competed and played hard for 40 minutes and if you do that consistently, you are going to win your share of games."
If the Tigers had played like this against, say, Georgia and Vanderbilt, their resume' would look a lot better than it does. Still, even in defeat, this effort should bolster the hopes of Tiger fans.
Missouri (16-5, 4-4 SEC) had one lead Saturday --- 2-0. The game had no ties and one lead change, that when Kentucky (16-5, 6-2) took a 3-2 lead.
The Wildcats --- now 6-0 all-time against the Tigers --- led the rest of the way, building a 42-32 lead at the break. Kentucky's lead ballooned to 59-43 with 14 1/2 minutes left when Aaron Harrison drained a 3-pointer off an assist from James Young.
But then ...
"They got back in it real quick," said Young, who was one of four Wildcats in double-figures with 20 points. "They got a lot of open shots, that's what kept them in the game."
Namely, it was Brown and Clarkson who kept the Tigers in the game.
Clarkson scored a career-high 28 points; Brown scored a career-high 33 points and had two roof-lifting moments, despite the crowd being more than 2,300 fans short of capacity due to lousy road conditions around the state.
The Tigers used an 18-7 run to get back within 66-61, when a thunderous dunk by Brown pulled the Tigers within three with 7:07 left.
Go crazy folks ... and they did.
"I just felt like it was a momentum flip," said Brown, a 6-5 junior, the SEC's leading scorer (19.8 ppg. entering Saturday) who scored more than 20 points for the sixth straight game.
"But I know they are a good team and I knew they weren't going to let that rattle them."
While scoring a career-high 33 points, Brown was 10-of-17 from the field (3-of-6 on 3-pointers) and 10-of-12 from the line.
Enjoy this, Tiger fans, because he won't be around next season.
"I don't think Jabari gets enough credit for how great of a player he is," Haith said. "It's his maturity and mental approach to the game. He has a high basketball IQ, and he is driven."
Later, it was another highlight-reel moment by Brown that kept the Tigers in the conversation down the stretch.
Down seven, Brown hit a 3-pointer from 10 feet beyond the arc, was fouled, and he converted the four-point play to make it 78-75 with 1:29 left.
"Frank Haith is doing a great job with his team," Calipari said. "He's doing it with mainly two or three guys, and those players are as good as anybody in our league."
The margin was still three when --- with 2 seconds left on the shot clock --- Kentucky freshman Aaron Harrison hit a short jumper with 19 seconds left, making it a five-point game at 82-77.
That basically ended it.
Brown was guarding Harrison on the play.
"I think I played pretty well," Brown said, "but that last play I did not get the stop and he scored a bucket, so that is tough. It's kind of killing me right now."
Blue and White teams seem to do that to the Tigers. Perhaps Missouri should rethink this.
Bring on Air Force.