Missouri continues its magical run, 82-73

No. 12-seeded Tigers KO No. 8 seed UCLA

NCAA Tournament

March 22, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

SAN JOSE, Calif. - The trudge upward continues for the Missouri, the team that thought it had arrived, found it hadn't, started over and now has a shot at the school's first Final Four appearance.

The 12th-seeded Tigers defeated No. 8 seed UCLA, 82-73, in a West Region semifinal game last night at Compaq Center.

Missouri (24-11) moved into the Elite Eight for only the third time in the program's history and the first time since 1994.

Tomorrow, the Tigers will meet second-seeded Oklahoma, a team it lost to earlier this season, 84-71. Oklahoma defeated third-seeded Arizona, 88-67, last night.

Last night's win is just the latest state in the gradual climb for the Tigers, who had been ranked as high as No. 2 this season after starting with nine straight victories.

However, Missouri was in danger of not making the NCAA tournament because it struggled in its next 23 games. Before the tournament, the team was seen as a greater bet to leave after the first round than to make it to the Final Four.

But last night, Kareem Rush and Clarence Gilbert demonstrated what everyone in the West Regional already suspected: Missouri is no ordinary No. 12 seed.

Gilbert scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half, and Rush scored 20 points to help the Tigers roar to their third upset of the tournament.

Arthur Johnson had 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Tigers.

Matt Barnes scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half for UCLA (21-12), which has reached the regional semifinals in five of six seasons under coach Steve Lavin, but won there just once.

The Bruins led much of the game, but wilted under the second-half pressure of Missouri's remarkable outside shooting.

UCLA was ahead 57-54 with 10 minutes to play, but Rush and Gilbert - who each hit four three-pointers - propelled a 19-6 run that put it away before the final minutes.

At the final buzzer, the Tigers embraced each other and coach Quin Snyder, who has answered the critics of Missouri's late-season slide with a trip to the regional final in just his third season.

Rickey Paulding had 15 points for Missouri, while Johnson played a solid inside game against UCLA's Dan Gadzuric.

The Tigers were led by their high-scoring duo of Gilbert and Rush, who flourished under Snyder's instructions to shoot early and often. Missouri made more three-pointers per game this season than all but five Division I teams.

Billy Knight had 16 points for UCLA in his final game. Knight, Gadzuric and Barnes all finished their careers with another difficult tourney loss.

Jason Kapono, UCLA's leading scorer, managed just seven points against a Missouri defense designed to stop him. Only Barnes, who scored nine straight points for the Bruins early in the second half, appeared up to the challenge of a more physical Big 12 defense.

Led by Barnes, UCLA twice led by eight points in the second half before Gilbert and Rush got going. Rush's fourth three-pointer of the half gave the Tigers a 63-59 lead with 7 minutes left, and Gilbert capped the night with his fourth three-pointer 3 minutes later, giving Missouri a 10-point lead.

Both teams were highly regarded early in the season - UCLA rose as high as No. 3 - before faltering. But both got on track at the right time, with Missouri ripping through Miami and Ohio State last weekend, while UCLA upset top-seeded Cincinnati in double overtime.

In the teams' only previous tournament meeting, in 1995, UCLA won on Tyus Edney's length-of-the-floor drive for a buzzer-beating layup. The Bruins went on to their 11th national title, with Lavin watching from the sidelines as Jim Harrick's assistant.

The Missouri players claimed no interest in getting revenge for that loss, but the Tigers' fans in San Jose clearly appreciated the gesture.

Missouri, which led for all but 2 minutes of its first two tournament games, trailed for most of the first half Thursday until Paulding's jumper gave the Tigers a 30-28 halftime lead.

UCLA shot just 31 percent before halftime, but Missouri made 10 turnovers.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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