(AP) — Turnovers led to Missouri suffering its worst defeat in four seasons.
If VCU can get its “havoc defense” back in gear – and hit some free throws – the 13th-ranked Tigers could be in for more problems.
Missouri will meet the Rams for the first time on Saturday night in the consolation game of the Battle 4 Atlantis in Nassau, Bahamas.
Looking to advance to the title game after fifth-ranked Duke defeated VCU (3-2) 67-58 in Friday’s first semifinal, Missouri (4-1) lost 84-61 to No. 2 Louisville as its season-high 23 turnovers led to 31 Cardinals points.
The Tigers, who lost for the first time in 19 non-conference games under second-year coach Frank Haith, averaged 11.3 turnovers in their first four games and had committed 10 in Thursday’s 78-70 quarterfinal victory over Stanford.
“We shot well (46.0 percent). It was the turnovers,” Haith said Friday following Missouri’s most lopsided defeat since a 90-65 loss at then-No. 15 Kansas on March 1, 2009. “We just had some careless plays. We have to find a ways to make plays. Guys were trying to make home run plays instead of the easy plays.”
One of those was star point guard Phil Pressey, who finished with a career-high eight turnovers that offset his 15 points and seven assists. He had 10 total turnovers in the first four games.
“We just didn’t execute. That’s what their (zone) defense does, force turnovers,” said Pressey, the SEC preseason player of the year. “I felt I was careless. The mistakes were mental, ones I myself don’t usually make.”
Pressey can expect plenty of pressure from the Rams, who are still among the nation’s leaders in steals with 12.2 per game despite recording a season-low five in Saturday’s loss to the Blue Devils. VCU scored 33 points off 22 turnovers in Thursday’s 78-65 victory over 19th-ranked Memphis.
“Our pressure was good in spurts,” senior guard Darius Theus said Friday. “But against a great team you have to do it for 40 minutes.”
The Rams also need to improve from the foul line. They’re hitting 64.6 percent this season after making just 12 of 19 against Duke. All seven misses came during a 5:32 stretch late in the second half.
“We had the guys we wanted at the free throw line, our best free throw shooters,” Rams coach Shaka Smart said after his team shot a season-worst 33.3 percent from the field and finished with a season-low four assists. “This game wasn’t lost with missed free throws. We weren’t disciplined enough with our pressure.”
Getting the ball to forward Juvonte Reddic could put plenty of pressure on the Tigers’ frontcourt of Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi. Reddic, a junior, has 24 points and 19 rebounds in the tournament after totaling 13 points and a career-best 13 boards on Friday.
Bowers had season lows with six points and one rebound in the semifinals, but the Tigers finished with a 37-32 rebounding edge as Oriakhi grabbed eight.
“We just had mental breakdowns,” Oriakhi said. “Honestly, I felt we beat ourselves. Honestly, we needed this to get our heads where they should be.”
The Tigers will need to know exactly where Treveon Graham is. The sophomore guard has raised his scoring average to 14.8 with 42 points in the last two games.