Villanova coach Jay Wright watched No. 10 Missouri and saw a lot of things that reminded him of his 2006 team that reached the final eight of the NCAA tournament and was ranked in the top five all season.
The Tigers, just like Wright's team six years ago, played four guards, rebounded and played solid defense in their 81-71 victory Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
"I watched every minute of every one of their games on tape. I love watching this team," Wright said of Missouri. "They have great confidence and everybody moves the ball. They have quickness to the ball and these guys are flying at the glass. They have the opportunity to play four guards and be successful."
Wright's current team has a chance to be good, too, but it may take a while for a team that has a lot of young players trying to crack the rotation.
"We're getting better and it's a little embarrassing saying that when we lose by 10, but that's just where we are right now," Wright said after the Wildcats' third loss in four games. "A game like this, it's the confidence we gained. You're going to come in and beat this kind of team. You can't pressure them, their guards are so good. They had so many answers. ... We don't feel good about a loss but we know there were a couple of times when we weren't ready to play. That's what we're going to learn from this."
Marcus Denmon had his second straight strong game from 3-point range, this time making six 3s and scoring 28 points.
"There was a lid on the basket for a little while," Denmon said. "We kept the ball moving and started making some shots."
The 6-foot-3 senior guard made seven 3s while scoring a career-high 31 points in the Tigers' last game against Northwestern State. He came into the game averaging 20.6 points and 3.3 3-pointers. On Tuesday, he was 6 of 10 from 3-point range, making all three attempts in the first 7:41 of the second half when Missouri (8-0) opened a 16-point lead.
Ricardo Ratliffe added 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Tigers, who last started a season with eight straight wins in 2006-07. Kim English had 15 points for Missouri, which cracked the top 10 this week.
The Tigers shot 42.4 percent from the field (28 of 66), well off the 52.5 percent they were at entering the game, a mark that is fourth nationally.
"We talk about finding ways to win when we don't shoot the ball well," first-year coach Frank Haith said. "I think this is the first night we didn't shoot the ball well. We played defense and rebounded. Those will be the keys to our success."
Maalik Wayns had 14 points and freshman Darrun Hilliard added 13 for the Wildcats (5-3).
The Wildcats used a 10-0 run capped by a 3 by Dominic Cheek to get within 61-55 with 9:52 left. They got as close as six once more, 68-62 on a rebound basket by JayVaughn Pinkston with 6:01 to play, but the Tigers went on a 7-1 run with Ratliffe, Denmon and English all scoring.
"It's no surprise at how good a team they were," Wright said. "We were trying to scrap and fight to keep it close and steal it at the end. They have so many answers and they are so intelligent. Their guards are good. That is a well-coached team."
Missouri outscored Villanova 24-8 in fast-break points and that was a credit to point guard Phil Pressey, who had eight points and 12 assists — many when the Tigers took off after grabbing the rebound of a Villanova miss.
"It's Phil," Ratliffe said of his point guard, who gave him a behind-the-back pass for a dunk. "He's got eyes, not only in the back of his head but in the side of his head, everywhere else. As soon as he drives I get my hands ready."
It was Villanova's sixth straight loss in a game against a ranked team.
"It's a 40-minute game and we probably played well for 33 minutes against a great team," Wayns said. "Those minutes are going to cost you. All you can do is go to practice and try and get better."
Denmon scored 12 points in the final 9:20 of the first half as Missouri took a 42-29 lead. His 3-pointer with 6:12 left in the first half gave the Tigers the lead for good, 24-21. Villanova managed just eight points over the final 9:20 of the half when Missouri outscored the Wildcats 23-8.