Missouri went toe-to-toe with No. 3 Arizona before wearing down Monday in a 72-53 loss on the opening day of the Maui Invitational.
When it was over, Tigers coach Kim Anderson admitted he couldn’t have hoped for much more.
“I was really proud of them,” Anderson said. “Arizona is better than us. I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Hey, we are better than Arizona.’ We are not. I knew coming into this game we were going to have to play perfect to win.
“I think we had a good game plan, but when it came down to it, they exposed us a little bit.”
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Arizona, the team most expect to win this tournament, exposed Missouri most in the ball-handling department. The Tigers lost 17 turnovers and the Wildcats turned those turnovers into 24 points on the other end.
No matter what Missouri did in other areas, those mistakes were too much to overcome.
Of course, Arizona’s defense had a lot to do with that.
“We didn’t make the correct passes and they had (good) pressure,” said Keith Shamburger, who scored 11 points. “So I mean, we can’t really blame one thing. I think it was both.”
Still, Missouri was in good shape until the end of the first half. The Tigers successfully slowed the game down early and matched Arizona for the opening 17 minutes, as the score was tied at 21.
Then Arizona went on a game-changing run.
Stanley Johnson, who scored 14 points, hit a three and the Wildcats went on to lead 32-25 at halftime.
“We gave them a little bit too easy buckets,” Montaque Gill-Caesar said. “We played a little soft on defense, so that was something we talked about when we went into the locker room. That’s just something that we as players need to take a mental note of. We can’t leave a half like that.”
Missouri fell behind from there, trailing by double-digits throughout much of the second half, though the Tigers never trailed by more than 21.
“We found a lot of things that we need to find out today,” Shamburger said. “I’m glad we found out that this is a hard-nosed team and we’re going to give it our all every minute of the game. That is going to get us a long way.”
Three players led the way for Arizona. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley each scored 15 points, while Johnson added 14.
“Missouri really played extremely hard tonight, and for a large portion of the game really challenged us in a variety of ways,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “One of which is on the glass. I think if we leave this game disappointed in anything, it’s that they outrebounded us 34-32, and I only say that because that’s something we take a lot of pride in, and I think we have on our side.”
Arizona, 4-0, will face K-State in a winners’ bracket semifinal at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN.
Gill-Caesar led Missouri, 2-2, with 13 points, while Jonathan Williams and Shamburger each scored 11 points. The Tigers will play Tuesday in the consolation bracket against Purdue, which lost to K-State, at 1 p.m. on ESPN2.
Even though the Tigers lost Monday, they feel confident moving forward.
“We came out and I thought we played really hard,” Anderson said. “We got some buckets early. We played some different defenses to see if we could slow them down a little bit. They’re a great team, so it doesn’t work forever, but it worked for a while
“… We’re a young team. We’re a new team. Came over here and we battled. We battled all the way to the end.”