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December 22, 2010

Bragging Again



There was no technical name for the play, no basketball jargon involved. It was simply what Mike Anderson calls "A back at ya."





"We do it every day in practice," Anderson said.

Illinois' D.J. Richardson had just stolen the ball from Mike Dixon Jr. and rainbowed in a three-pointer from the left wing to pull Illinois within 62-61 with just 41 seconds left in a Braggin' Rights battle that had never been separated by more than nine points in either direction.

Kim English grabbed the ball and inbounded to Marcus Denmon on the left side of the backcourt. Denmon looked up and found a streaking Laurence Bowers ahead of the pack. Bowers caught the ball, laid it in and was fouled by Mike Tisdale.

The offense was whistled as an intentional foul by the officials. That call received differing analysis after the game.

"I wasn't sure if I made the basket or not because he pushed me while I was in the air so I didn't get to see the ball go through," Bowers said. "It was a big play. And we were fortunate."

"I do not like the intentional foul rule," Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said. "I told the head of officials last year, there's so many intentional fouls at the end of the game that they don't call. It shouldn't be in the book cause it just puts everybody in a bind. We've had two of them. We had it last year in the Big Ten tournament, we had it here. It just happens. He probably made the right call, but it's not a good rule in my opinion."

The basket and the ensuing free throws touched off a seven-second stretch in which Missouri scored six points.

"It's the fastest forty minutes," Justin Safford deadpanned.

The Tigers trailed 57-54 with three-and-a-half minutes to play.

"You look up at the clock sometimes and guys tend to panic and stuff and there's like four minutes left," Safford said. "We do it every day in practice. Four minutes, that's a lot of time for us."

From there, Denmon stole the ball from Demetri McCamey and assisted on a Bowers basket. Following a Bowers block, Denmon made an 18-foot jumper to give the Tigers the lead. A Dixon floater put Missouri back on top 60-58. Denmon then baited the Illini into a turnover reminiscent of his steal that sealed a win over Vanderbilt. This one led to a Ricardo Ratliffe layup.

"I knew that they were gonna be trying to get the ball to McCamey. He was the head of their basketball team and the key to a lot of things they do offensively," Denmon said. "When he went back, I let him go a little bit, but then I took off. I knew they were gonna pass it and my big man, Ricardo, ran the floor well and I just passed it to him cause you always got to reward the big man for running the floor. And he finished and that was a big play."

But still, the Tigers needed the more to close out a game that was much closer than it seemed. With 42 seconds to go, Missouri led by one. The Tigers outscored Illinois 13-3 the rest of the way.

"It's a game of runs," Anderson said. "You want to have, hopefully, the longest run and, hopefully, the last run."

On this night, the Tigers did. And with it came the rights to brag for a second straight year.

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