COLUMBIA, Mo. — First-year University of Central Arkansas coach Corliss Williamson hopes he saw the future of Bears basketball Saturday night at Mizzou Arena.
It came in the form of the 13th-ranked Missouri Tigers, who raced past the Bears for a 116-63 victory before a crowd of 7,924 and a regional television audience. It was Missouri’s school-record 54th consecutive nonconference victory at Mizzou Arena, with the majority of those coming under head coach Mike Anderson, a former assistant coach at Arkansas and one of Williamson’s mentors.
"I told (assistant) Coach (Clarence) Finley at halftime at least our guys had fun for a stretch there in the first half," Williamson said. "I think starting off, the bright lights hit them and the pressure got to us a little bit. We warned our guys about it, but until you’re actually out there on the court and into it, it’s hard to be prepared for it.
"We’re very proud that we did fight back and had a chance to compete early on, but it’s just unfortunate that we ran into a buzzsaw."
The Big 12 Tigers, who dub their brand of basketball "The fastest 40 minutes in basketball," set the tone early, forcing turnovers on UCA’s first two possessions and hitting six of their first seven shots from the field to take a 12-0 lead in the first two minutes. UCA finally seemed to adjust to the speed of the game and closed the gap to seven points twice, the first time on a rebound basket by Chris Henson and again on a jumper by Mark Rutledge.
But the Tigers (10-1) exploded again, this time for good, outscoring the Bears 29-4 over the next seven minutes to take a 48-16 lead with four minutes remaining. Missouri made 17 of its first 25 shots (68 percent) from the field, including five three-pointers, and forced 13 UCA turnovers through the first 16 minutes.
Junior forward Ricardo Ratliffe had 14 points at that half as the Tigers shot 60.6 percent overall and were 9 of 10 from the free-throw line. UCA came in at 24.1 percent overall, hitting just 7 of 29. UCA was 0 for 10 from the 3-point line. The 54 first-half points was the most allowed by the Bears this season, and UCA’s 19 points was its second-lowest halftime total of the year.
Unfortunately for the Bears, the Tigers never lost their hot hand, actually improving on their torrid shooting in the second half when they led by as much as 55 points. Missouri shot a staggering 71.4 percent in the second half and hit the 100-point mark with five minutes left to finish with a season-high 116 points. The Tigers nailed 13 of 26 from three-point range and their defense forced 24 turnovers.
"Wow, 71 percent. It was really something we didn’t expect," Williamson said. "We knew they had guys that could shoot the basketball but it just seemed like they were unconscious tonight. No matter what defense we ran, if we were running at them or not, they were knocking down shots. It was very difficult when we can’t score offensively and the other team is that hot.
"You look at those percentages, if you’re a coach, you like to see that as a free-throw percentage not as a field-goal percentage. It was very tough for us to come back and really fight and get our kids to stay focused when they are hitting shots like that. It was like nothing we did was right, and they just continued to make shots."
Senior guard Mike Pouncy was the only UCA player in double figures with 11 points, as UCA shot just 31.8 percent for the game. Meanwhile, the Tigers had seven with at least 10 points, led by Marcus Denmon with 21 points and Laurence Bowers with 20. Ratliffe had 18 points, while Phil Pressey addded 15, Kim English 14 and Ricky Kreklow and Justin Safford 11 each.
"Hopefully, they understand what it takes to play at this level and this style of basketball," Williamson said of his Bears. "It’s something we preach to them everyday, how we want to play, having that effort night in and night out. That’s why I put this game on the schedule. We wanted to play a team that has mastered the style of play that we’re trying to emulate."
The Bears return home to the Farris Center once more before the holiday break, hosting Lyon College at 7 p.m. Tuesday.