On paper the matchup between Missouri and California looked to be a good matchup, with both teams fresh off of big wins in the semifinals of the CBE Classic in Kansas City. On the floor however, things got out of hand quickly for the Golden Bears as the Tigers rolled in front of a pro-Missouri crowd. Kim English scored 19 points and tournament MVP Marcus Denmon finished with 18 points and six rebounds as the Tigers won 92-53, and it could be argued that the 39-point margin doesn't do this result justice. Six Missouri players finished in double figures in what arguably is the best showing of any team in the country at this early point in the season, considering the opponent.
Frankly the Golden Bears, one of three teams expected to contend in the Pac-12, looked overwhelmed. Cal trailed by just five shortly after the halfway point of the first half, but that would be as close as Mike Montgomery's team would be the remainder of the night. Missouri went on a 12-2 run to set things in motion, and they led 45-26 at the break. But instead of being able to play the Tigers even in the second half California fell further behind as they were outscored 47-27 in the second half. The final nail in the coffin came with 11:12 remaining as Jorge Gutierrez, who led the Bears with 11 points, committed his fifth foul out of frustration. Mizzou's aggression made it seem as if they had more than the legal number of players on the court, and Cal couldn't adjust at all.
"It starts with us playing as a team," said Denmon. "Everybody passing up the good shot for a better shot, and that's what we did as a unit. It allowed us to have California playing on their heels, and that's something I felt if we did as a team, we would be hard to guard."
Missouri shot 58.8% from the field and finished with an effective field goal percentage of 68.6%, nine percentage points above their season average. California couldn't get much of anything done as they shot 29.8% from the field, and their 34-27 rebounding edge was more a result of them missing more shots than Missouri than any exploitation of the Tigers' lack of interior depth. But even that turned out to be of little issue for Missouri, with Steve Moore scoring ten points off the bench to account for Ricardo Ratliffe's foul trouble.
While some may cite this loss as another piece of evidence that the Pac-12 is once again "down" that would be misguided. Frank Haith's got an experienced team that's not only adjusting well to a new system, but one that has no problem sharing the accolades. Should this continue, Missouri will definitely be a factor in what's expected to be a wide-open Big 12 race.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Duke and Kansas advance to the title game of the Maui Invitational.
The semifinals of the Maui Invitational produced the results many expected to see on Tuesday night, with Duke beating Michigan and Kansas withstanding a second half UCLA rally to advance to Wednesday's title game. Austin Rivers led four Duke starters in double figures with 20 points in their 82-75 win over the Wolverines in a game that opened up offensively in the second half. Duke performed well defensively in the first half, limiting the Wolverines to 22 points and 34.5% shooting from the field. The biggest problem for Michigan: ten assists for the game with freshman Trey Burke having nine of them. Michigan's assist percentage (32.3%) was nowhere near their season average (50.8%) as the Blue Devlls did a good job of taking away the passing lanes that make John Beilein's offense so tough to guard.
As for the Jayhawks they had a far different challenge on their hands, and an unpredictable one at that given the fact that few people know which UCLA will show up on a nightly basis. Kansas took on the Bruins who lost to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee for much of the first half, taking a 43-26 lead into the locker room. But then the Bruins woke up, cutting the Kansas lead to as few as five points but it wasn't enough to wrestle the game away from the Jayhawks. Elijah Johnson got going for Kansas on the perimeter, scoring a game-high 23 points while Thomas Robinson added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Kansas controlled the boards against the deeper Bruins to the tune of a 34-21 rebounding edge, and UCLA made just 26.6% of their two-point shots. Both finalists will encounter far different tests on Wednesday, meaning that the team best able to adjust will likely leave the island with the title.
2. A greatly improved Meyers Leonard leads Illinois to a win over Richmond in Cancun.
With the departures of Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale there was ample room for players to step up for Bruce Weber's Fighting Illini. And on the heels of a successful summer with USA Basketball center Meyers Leonard has looked capable of making the move, and his play on Tuesday night was the difference in Illinois' 7-061 win over Richmond in the Cancun Challenge.
Leonard finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks to lead the undefeated Fighting Illini while Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco added 19 and was the man Weber called on to initiate the offense in crunch time. The emergence of Leonard and the amount of trust that Weber has in Maniscalco are two things to watch with Illinois beginning with their matchup with Illinois State in Wednesday's final. Can Leonard build on his best performance of the season? If so, a championship is a definite possibility.
3. Memphis survives a virtuoso performance by Tennessee's Jeronne Maymon to beat Tennessee in double overtime.
Memphis absolutely caught fire about halfway through the first half in the first game of the day from Maui on their way to 55 first-half points. However there was an issue for the Memphis big men that some may not have expected: no one could guard Jeronne Maymon. Tarik Black had to sit early with two fouls, and the slender Stan Simpson really didn't have much of a chance in slowing down Maymon, who finished with 32 points and 20 rebounds. But despite the fight from Cuonzo Martin's team the Volunteers didn't have enough to grab the win, falling 99-97 in double overtime.
Will Barton bounced back from a poor performance against Michigan to score 25 points and Adonis Thomas added 19 and Antonio Barton 21 off the bench. Tennessee is going to go toe-to-toe with many of the teams on their schedule due to the mindset that their head coach has instilled in them. The Vols will back down from no one, regardless of the margin. As for Memphis, the win highlighted the need for Black to remain on the floor and out of foul trouble. The Tigers were out-rebounded 49-34 on the afternoon, and while they got away with it against Tennessee there will be games where they aren't as fortunate.
1. Danny Hurley's Wagner Seahawks picked up a solid win on the road as they beat Penn 71-65 at The Palestra. Guards Latif Rivers and Tyler Murray, one of the better guard tandems in the NEC, combined to score 32 points and Chris Martin addel 11.
2. One-time Clemson head coach Cliff Ellis returned to Littlejohn Coliseum, and his Coastal Carolina Chanticleers won 60-59 on a Chris Grandingo followed his own miss and scored as time expired. Grandingo finished with 21 points and Anthony Raffa scored 22 for the Chanticleers, who are 5-0 and looking to win another Big South regular season title.
3. Wisconsin rolled to a 77-31 win over UMKC as they limited the Kangaroos to 30.2% shooting on the night. UMKC made just 12.9% of their shots in the second half, and Jared Berggren led the Badgers with 21 points and Ben Brust added 12 off the bench. Those two outscored UMKC by themselves.
4. Mike Anderson's Arkansas Razorbacks are down to just nine scholarship players after receiving the news that forward Marshawn Powell was out for the season with a knee injury. Will the Hogs have the size and experience needed to navigate the ACC without Powell? That remains to be seen.
5. This will likely be a long season for USC, who survived their matchup with winless Morgan State 65-62. Maurice Jones played all 40 minutes and scored 18 points and dished out six assists. For the Trojans to win games Jones will have to be at his best, but will he be able to shoulder the load without help?
Three Notable Performances
1. F Jeronne Maymon (Tennessee)
32 points and 20 rebounds in the Volunetters' double-overtime 99-97 loss to Memphis.
2. G Velton Jones (Robert Morris)
38 points, four rebounds and two assists in the Colonials' 82-77 win over James Madison.
3. G Jim Mower (Lafayette)
37 points and three rebounds in the Leopards' 85-74 win over Fairleigh Dickinson.