Missouri-La Salle Preview
Thanks to its own doing, Missouri's road to the finals of the Cancun Challenge proved to be more difficult than originally expected.
The No. 11 Tigers hope to achieve that elusive complete effort when they face La Salle in the tournament championship Wednesday night.
As the only ranked school in the eight-team field, Missouri (3-0) has not looked like one of the nation's top teams on its way to the title game.
Missouri overcame a 41.1-percent shooting effort to outlast Western Illinois 66-61 in its season opener at home to kick off the event Thursday. The Tigers committed 18 turnovers in a 96-58 win over North Florida two days later.
The combination of poor ball security and another disappointing shooting performance almost cost Missouri during Tuesday's 72-62 semifinal victory over Wyoming.
The Tigers shot 38.8 percent, committed 20 turnovers and saw their 15-point halftime lead trimmed to two after going almost 4 minutes without a basket. Michael Dixon finished with 17 points and hit three of Missouri's 10 3-pointers after he went 1 for 4 from beyond the arc in the first two games.
"We got the job done. It wasn't the prettiest thing,'' coach Mike Anderson said. "But at the same time, I thought we dug when we had to.''
Though La Salle (4-1) has dropped 18 in a row against Top 25 opponents, Missouri likely can't afford another lackluster offensive effort if it wants to remain undefeated. Tuesday's effort might have provided a wake-up call.
"I think (Wyoming) got within two and that was the ice-breaker,'' Missouri forward Laurence Bowers said. "I think from that play on, we knew, 'Man, this team has got to play, and we've got to play more with a sense of urgency.'''
Missouri, however, continues to play well on the defensive end.
The Tigers have yet to allow an opponent to score more than 62 points or shoot better than 42.1 percent. They held Wyoming to 39.2 percent shooting, including 3-for-14 from 3-point range.
Ten of Ricardo Ratliffe's 12 rebounds came on the defensive glass for Missouri. The 6-foot-8 junior reserve has 22 boards in his last two contests.
Ratliffe, Bowers and fellow forward Justin Safford each could be asked to try to contain 6-10 La Salle sophomore Aaric Murray, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds in an 84-73 win over Providence in Tuesday's other semifinal.
Murray, averaging 19.0 points and 9.0 rebounds, is excited for the challenge as the Explorers try for a third straight victory since losing 74-64 at then-No. 17 Baylor on Nov. 16.
"It is a great opportunity (to play Missouri) and play a ranked team, one of the best teams in the country," Murray told the school's official website.
Earl Pettis had 18 points and Jerrell Williams added 13 with 13 boards as the Explorers shot 50.0 percent, held the Friars to 34.8 percent and held a 59-31 rebounding advantage.
"Anytime your team gives a great effort, you have to be happy," said La Salle coach John Giannini said. "We keep getting better and I think we can keep getting better."
Missouri won 83-74 over La Salle in the schools' only meeting Jan. 7, 1981.