When freshman Marcus Denmon swished one from three-quarters court at the halftime buzzer to put his team up by 13, it sure looked like Missouri's night.
And when Mizzou later made it a 24-point lead, it looked unbelievably easy. That's when Memphis made things interesting.
J.T. Tiller scored a surprising 23 points and Missouri held off a frantic rally, ending Memphis' 27-game winning streak with a 102-91 victory Thursday night in the semifinals of the West Regional.
The display of intensity and toughness "out-Memphised" the opposition to put Missouri one win from its first trip to the Final Four.
"We kind of got punched in the mouth right from the beginning of the game," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "They broke us down defensively like we break people down. They beat us at our own game."
Third-seeded Missouri led by 24 points four minutes into the second half, then saw Memphis close within six with 2:14 to play. Mizzou put it away from the foul line.
Missouri (31-6) advanced to play top-seeded Connecticut for the West title on Saturday.
"We came out and kind of took the fight to Memphis early on, and before you know it, our guys had a little confidence," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said.
Dynamic point guard Tyreke Evans scored 33 for second-seeded Memphis (33-4). The Tigers shot only 18-for-32 from the foul line _ last year, a poor showing at the foul line cost them dearly in an overtime championship game loss to Kansas.
Tiller, the co-defensive player of the year in the Big 12, made 10-of-16 shots in the highest-scoring game of his career and had three steals. He was averaging only eight points per game.
"His energy was just contagious," Anderson said. "I thought he was like a pit bull in a china shop out there. He was going everywhere, just bowling down everybody. He was wherever the ball was."
All five Missouri starters reached double figures. DeMarre Carroll scored 17 and Leo Lyons had 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Lyons was 11-for-18 from the foul line but made four straight in the final 1 1/2 minutes. In all, a whopping 77 free throws were taken, with Missouri making 30 of 45.
Robert Dozier had 19 points and 16 rebounds in Memphis' first loss since a Dec. 20 setback against Syracuse. Antonio Anderson scored 18 in his last game for Memphis.
Missouri is among the last eight teams left in the NCAA tournament in just its third season under Anderson, a Nolan Richardson disciple who coached the last Conference USA team to beat Calipari's Memphis team _ that was for UAB 62 games ago.
This was Tigers vs. Tigers in a matchup not only of nicknames but in-your-face, high-energy styles.
Missouri overwhelmed Memphis with a 27-7 run that spanned the final four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second.
Matt Lawrence's third 3-pointer of the night _ in four attempts _ put Missouri ahead 64-40 with 16 minutes to play.
"I don't think we lost our composure," Dozier said, "but maybe on the defensive end a little bit. We weren't talking."
In its fourth straight regional semifinal appearance, Memphis finally turned up the pressure to force a series of turnovers that got the Conference USA champs back in the game.
Shawn Taggart's rebound dunk cut it to 89-83 with 2:14 left, but Zaire Taylor sank two free throws to boost the lead to 91-83. Lyons made two free throws with 1:30 left, then two more with 1:21 to go and it was 95-85.
Lawrence had started it all for Missouri with a 3-pointer that ignited an 11-1 run. The Tigers took a 37-29 lead on Tiller's inside basket with 5:39 left in the half.
After one of many driving layups by the freshman Evans cut it to 37-33, Missouri outscored Memphis 12-3 the rest of the half. Calipari aided the spurt with a technical foul. That resulted in one of two free throws by Lawrence, then another inside basket by Tiller.
Denmon banked in a long shot with 21.2 seconds left, and the officials stopped play to study the video before deciding it was a 2-pointer. There certainly was no question on his next shot. After Taggart's dunk for Memphis with just under four to seconds to go, Missouri got the ball to Denmon, who let fly with defenders around him, a shot that hit nothing but the net as the horn blared.
"It is funny because coach had us practicing that the whole tournament," teammate Zaire Taylor said. "Every day at the end of practice we get two shots each. I like to believe it paid off."
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