As conference members in the Big Eight and Big 12, Missouri and Oklahoma waged memorable battles on the hardwood.
The high-level teams of Norm Stewart and Billy Tubbs; that 1990 season when the teams spent weeks atop the polls along with Kansas; and in 2002 when they met in the Elite Eight.
Oklahoma’s 82-63 victory over Missouri on Friday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge won’t be remembered with those encounters.
The Tigers are rebuilding under Kim Anderson, who participated in many Mizzou-OU games as a player and assistant coach. Mizzou has a ways to go to win a game like this.
“This is big-boy basketball, and you have to be ready for anything they throw at you,” Anderson said.
The struggle continued at Lloyd Noble Center against a No. 22-ranked Oklahoma team that appears to be Coach Lon Kruger’s best in his fourth year in Norman.
Over Thanksgiving, the Sooners defeated UCLA and Butler and pushed Wisconsin in the Battle 4 Atlantis and look like a sure bet to play in their third straight NCAA Tournament.
As Anderson deals with a roster of inexperienced players, the Tigers are simply looking to stay competitive as long as possible in these types of games, and Friday they managed to reverse a recent trend of poor starts.
Mizzou’s offense moved crisply early. Shooters got looks, and the Tigers knocked them down. In quick succession, Montaque Gill-Caesar scored at the basket then buried a jumper.
Johnathan Williams III was active early, going hard to the hoop for a couple of baskets. Namon Wright stuck a jumper. For about 10 minutes, the Tigers were playing as a well as they have all season.
Mizzou didn’t trail until Oklahoma’s Isaiah Cousins hit a triple eight minutes in, and Missouri quickly regained the edge.
When Deuce Bello banked in a three-pointer with 8:09 left in the half, the Tigers deficit was 21-20.
But at that point, Oklahoma took off.
The Sooners turned up the defensive pressure, challenging Missouri shooters and creating havoc around the perimeter. The Tigers wound up with 10 first-half turnovers, eight courtesy of Sooners’ steals.
“We came out more aggressive, then we settled too much,” Gill-Caesar said. “And they were attacking us on the defensive end.”
Oklahoma isn’t a pressure team. The Sooners came into the game averaging 6.2 steals per game. They have been a superb rebounding team, but Mizzou held its own there throughout the first half.
But things got away quickly. A TaShawn Thomas dunk that made it 34-22 brought the Lloyd Noble crowd to its feet.
“They did a great job turning us over, and that was the game in the first half,” Anderson said. “We’ve had trouble adjusting to adversity. When we try to execute something and it doesn’t work, we have trouble adjusting.”
Oklahoma’s defensive pressure, which created transition offense, put Missouri on its heels.
“I thought we panicked more than anything,” Anderson said. “The problem was, when they stole the basketball it eliminated our transition defense, which we had done a pretty good job with for a while. Then we couldn’t get our guys back.”
The Tigers stopped the first-half bleeding with Wes Clark’s three-pointer, but the Sooners answered with Ryan Spangler’s just before the halftime buzzer. Clark played after serving a one-game suspension.
Spangler didn’t need to hit the long one to hurt the Tigers. He did enough damage inside, and finished with 18 on seven of eight shooting.
The Sooners had scored 18 points straight, opening the second half on a 15-0 run, when Gill-Caesar hit a corner three.
Time outs, lineup changes, defensive switches, nothing was working for the Tigers, who fell behind by as many as 27 in the second half. At that point, the Tigers’ goal was to continue to run stuff and keep the deficit from climbing to an embarrassing level, and Mizzou succeeded.
Williams finished with 16 and Gill-Caesar with 15.
Oklahoma emptied the bench in the final minutes and put the finishing touches on this version of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.