Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Orange-Picking Time Syracuse (23-6) Crops Up Next on Mu's Path to Final Four

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Orange-Picking Time Syracuse (23-6) Crops Up Next on Mu's Path to Final Four

Article excerpt

As University of Missouri basketball coach Norm Stewart predictably chanted the mantra of "one game at a time" at a news conference Wednesday, MU guard Melvin Booker beamed from under his conspicuous "Final Four" baseball cap. The antsy Booker didn't want to wait until he gets to Charlotte, N.C., to pick up souvenirs.

"I want to wear this to Charlotte," Booker said.

But the Tigers, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament West Regional, must surmount two more formidable obstacles to make Booker's hat a legitimate keepsake instead of a hollow trinket.

The first is fourth-seeded Syracuse, which dashed MU's last trip to the Sweet 16 five years ago today. The Orangemen (23-6) and the Tigers (27-3) play at the Los Angeles Sports Arena at 7:07 St. Louis time tonight. Syracuse will be no trifle for Mizzou, which never has won three NCAA Tournament games in one season and is seeking its first regional final since 1976.

Like MU, the Orangemen have been disparaged for their tendency to swoon in March. But Syracuse is in the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in the last nine years, and cranky coach Jim Boeheim isn't just content to be here.

After his portion of the news conference on Wednesday, Boeheim jutted his chin out about his team's ability to win close games and its mental toughness. Asked of MU's lapse in style points in its three previous games before it played Wisconsin, he said, "We hope that Missouri team will show up."

While he was respectful of MU, he conceded nothing. And why should he?

Not with the second best record (13-5) in the Big East Conference, not with the knowledge that his team trailed in 10 of those games with five minutes left and not with statistics that match up favorably to MU's:

Syracuse shoots better from the field (47.8 percent to 46.1) and from the foul line (71.5 percent to 68.4), scores more (83.8 to 80.8), commits fewer turnovers (14.9 to 15.3) and outrebounds MU (41.1 to 39.1).

Also consider that 15th-ranked Syracuse has one of the best guard duos in the country in Adrian Autry and Lawrence Moten - although Moten suffered an injury to his left wrist in practice Tuesday and will be less than 100 percent. Booker compared Autry, 6 feet 4, to Colorado's Donnie Boyce.

"We held Boyce to 30," Stewart said.

Don't bother pointing out to Boeheim that all other things being equal, MU's bench produced a school-record 54 points in its last game while Syracuse's contributed none.

"We have not gotten worn down all year," Boeheim said. "Kentucky pressed us, played a lot of people - it didn't wear us down. Connecticut pressed us for 40 minutes, played 10 people - and we did not get worn down."

Stewart, who used 14 players against Navy and 12 against Wisconsin, said he hoped MU's depth would be a factor. But he isn't sure it will be.

"You look at their ballclub, and maybe they don't need much help off the bench," Stewart said. …

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