Battle of the Tigers

Tuesday, March 24, 2009
MATT CILLEY ~ Associated Press
Missouri coach Mike Anderson directs his players during the second half of Sunday's second-round NCAA tournament game against Marquette in Boise, Idaho.

By ALAN SCHER ZAGIER

The Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The Tyus Edney curse is exorcised. Bring on the Memphis Tigers.

Missouri's 83-79 win Sunday over Marquette in the NCAA tournament's second round did more than advance these other Tigers to the West Regional semifinals, the program's best showing since 2002. It also purged painful memories of the school's previous trip to Boise, Idaho, in 1995.

That's when Missouri fell to top-seeded UCLA 75-74 as Bruins point guard Edney drove the length of the court for a buzzer-beating layup -- a play still mentioned among the tournament's all-time dramatic finishes and seen regularly on March Madness highlight reels.

That loss helped send the once-proud Missouri program into a tailspin from which it is only now recovering -- a decade-plus hiatus that saw the retirement of longtime coach Norm Stewart and the rocky regime of coach Quin Snyder.

Snyder, a former guard and assistant at Duke, led Missouri to a regional finals appearance, but the program crumbled under NCAA sanctions and Snyder's bizarre firing/forced resignation in 2006.

Now, with a school-record 30 wins in his third year at Missouri, coach Mike Anderson said those demons can be buried. His team's focus is squarely on a postseason run that few expected from a squad picked by preseason prognosticators to finish seventh in the Big 12 Conference.

"It's late March and we're still playing basketball," Anderson said Monday. "As a coach that excites you."

Anderson will face a familiar opponent Thursday in Glendale, Ariz.

While coaching at Alabama-Birmingham, his last stop before Missouri, Anderson regularly faced Memphis coach John Calipari. And he holds the distinction of leading the last team to defeat Memphis in a Conference USA game, an 80-74 defeat on March 2, 2006.

Memphis (33-3), seeded second in the West region, has since won 61 consecutive conference games, finished with at least 30 wins each of the past four seasons and advanced to the championship game last season, where Calipari's team lost to Kansas.

Calipari said he won't change his approach to preparing for Missouri, which like Memphis relies on a deep bench and an uptempo strategy designed to discombobulate opponents.

"Were going to keep doing what we've done the last four years," Calipari said.

Missouri (30-6), the region's third seed, has a roster filled with players making their first NCAA tournament appearances. Only little-used reserve guard Michael Anderson Jr., the coach's son, can point to previous tourney experience. And that came at Alabama-Birmingham, where he played before transferring to join his father.

"I've got seven new guys on this team that have never played at this level," Anderson said, referring to his freshmen and junior college transfers. "That's remarkable."

Calipari said he expects a worthy coaching opponent in Anderson, whose success this season has reportedly interested potential suitors in Alabama and Georgia. Anderson on Monday declined to discuss his interest in those vacancies, saying only that he is preparing for Memphis.

"There's nothing but respect from me for the job he's done," Calipari said. "He gets them to compete."

After arriving home in Columbia at 4:30 a.m. Central time from Boise, Missouri held a brief practice Monday before its scheduled departure to Arizona on Tuesday.

Missouri junior guard Zaire Taylor said he expects both sets of Tigers to deliver a fresh round of highlights: Memphis, deprived of a top seed despite its unprecedented success; and Missouri, a team that before the season would likely have been happy with a bubble-busting NCAA berth, period.

"Both of us feel like we have a lot to prove," Taylor said. "This is a game that people should look forward to watching."

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