Johnson powers MU in Big 12 opener

Sunday, January 12, 2003

The Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Usually, Missouri coach Quin Snyder tempers his praise. Not after watching his center dominate Baylor.

"Arthur Johnson was something special tonight, in every way," Snyder said Saturday after the 13th-ranked Tigers' 77-69 victory. "I was unbelievably proud of his effort.

"When he gives that kind of effort at both ends of the floor, it's tough to handle."

Johnson scored a career-high 30 points and had 15 rebounds for his third straight double-double in the Big 12 opener for both teams. He has put together a strong response to a poor performance against Illinois before Christmas, just missing on a fourth double-double when he had nine rebounds against Valparaiso on Dec. 30. Missouri (10-1) has won all four games.

"I'm finding myself as a player," Johnson said. "I don't have to think too much."

Against Baylor, Johnson almost had a double-double by halftime when he had 13 points and nine rebounds as the Tigers took a 35-25 lead. He was 12-for-17 from the field, had six offensive rebounds and added two steals and two assists.

"It's very hard for us when they have a guy that big who can do what he can do," Baylor guard Kenny Taylor said. "He's in on almost every play under the basket, and he has a way of positioning himself right where he needs to be."

Johnson topped his previous best of 24 points accomplished twice, the last time on Dec. 7, against Southern California. He missed his rebounding best by four. He also put the clamps on Lawrence Roberts, Baylor's top scorer with a 15.8-point average, holding him to six points.

Baylor (9-3) entered the game as the Big 12's top 3-point shooting team, averaging 9.8 per game on 26.9 attempts, but largely against lesser competition. Against Missouri, the Bears misfired most of the game before getting hot at the end, finishing 10-for-37.

Taylor hit four 3-pointers over the final 4 1/2 minutes, the last one cutting the gap to 72-69 with 1:38 remaining.

"When you're a shooter, you can miss some shots as long as you keep shooting," Taylor said. "That's the thing I kept telling myself."

Then Johnson clinched it with a thundering dunk and three-point play with 1:04 left. It was the last in a series of big baskets for the 6-foot-9 junior.

"It was a close game, so I wanted to make some plays to make them go away, but they never went away," Johnson said. "I wanted to keep making plays, I wanted to kind of like knock them out."

Rickey Paulding added 15 points and Ricky Clemons had 11 points and six assists for Missouri. Johnson, Paulding, Clemons and reserve Jeffrey Ferguson shaved their heads before the game.

"We just wanted to do something different," Johnson said. "And, you know, it's the style."

Baylor has lost 19 straight road games dating to a Jan. 13, 2001 victory at Kansas State, and is 1-7 against ranked opponents the last two seasons. The Bears beat Missouri 81-80 last year in Waco, Texas.

Taylor led Baylor with 23 points, going 7-for-17 from 3-point range, while John Lucas added 18 points.

Baylor center R.T. Guinn hit the first basket of the game, a 3-pointer, but played only eight minutes before leaving with an apparent concussion. He watched the second half in street clothes from the bench and coach Dave Bliss said that factored into Johnson's dominance.

"We had no answer when we lost R.T.," Bliss said. "When he goes out we don't have that same presence inside."

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