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The Greatest, #98: Missouri 69, Louisville 55 (1982)

Senior Ricky Frazier led Mizzou past Louisville in what may have been the greatest week of Mizzou's greatest era.
Senior Ricky Frazier led Mizzou past Louisville in what may have been the greatest week of Mizzou's greatest era.
The Savitar

Missouri showed why it's ranked second in one college basketball poll and third in another Sunday by defeating Louisville in a televised game in St. Louis, 69-55, Sunday.

Unbeaten Missouri's showing didn't surprise its coach, Norm Stewart. "I felt everyone would play a little above themselves because of last year's game," he said.

A year ago, then-defending national [champion] Louisville routed Missouri, 71-49. But the Tigers returned the favor Sunday, outscoring the Cardinals in the final nine minutes of the first half, 22-4, to take a 38-24 lead that Louisville, ranked 13th and 17th, couldn't recover from.

Ricky Frazier scored 22 points for Missouri, now 14-0 and off to its best start in 60 years.

-- The AP/UPI, 1/18/1982

You don't necessarily get to choose when you peak, either in a given season or in a specific era. For the Stipo-and-Sundvold era at Mizzou, the peak most likely came in January 1982. The Tigers had already won the last two conference titles, but after reaching the Sweet 16 in 1980, they had faltered a bit in 1981, finishing the season with losses to Kansas in the Big 8 Tournament and Lamar in the NCAAs. But things were different in 1981-82. Ranked 16th to start the season, Mizzou returned three starters (Ricky Frazier, Steve Stipanovich, Jon Sundvold) and a key backup (Moon McCrary) and welcomed some new (Prince Bridges, Michael Walker) and old names (Mark Dressler, who sat out the 1980-81 season) to the rotation. The Tigers were simply loaded, and things clicked from the start of the season.

Mizzou took out Illinois, 78-68, in Champaign in overtime, then thumped No. 19 UAB, 98-80, in the Winston Tire Classic in L.A. The Tigers destroyed Notre Dame by 22 in Kansas City and started conference play 2-0 before a pretty big weekend.

This was it, the year above all years, the season in which Missouri broke from the pack and stood shoulder to shoulder with the nation's best. No longer just a regional power, Missouri, for the first time, was rated the top team in America, a true hoops heavyweight. [...]

After beating Oklahoma State in Columbia, the Tigers faced a brutal weekend excursion that cemented their new stature. It began on a Saturday night at Nebraska, where [Prince] Bridges sank a shot at the buzzer to give Missouri a 44-42 win. The Tigers then raced to catch a flight to St. Louis, where they faced Louisville in a noon tip-off on Sunday. It was an accomodation for television as NBC gave the nation its first glimpse of the surging Tigers. Despite the circumstances, Missouri showed no signs of fatigue. Ricky Frazier scored twenty-two points, and Moon McCrary held Louisville star Derek Smith to seven as the Tigers rolled the Cardinals 69-55. While Norm Stewart's club dismantled a perennial national power, television commentator (and Hall of Fame coach) Al McGuire exclaimed, "Gang, Missouri is for real!"

-- Michael Atchison, True Sons: A Century of Missouri Basketball

The following Wednesday, Missouri held off Kansas, 41-35, in Columbia, then welcomed Oklahoma the following Saturday. Thanks to a loss by No. 1 North Carolina, Mizzou could advance to the top spot with a win over Billy Tubbs and the Sooners. More from Atchison:

When Oklahoma visited on January 23, the weight of the moment did not faze the Tigers. Before a record crowd of 12,944, Norm Stewart's club stormed the Sooners. Missouri raced to a 14-4 lead, withstood a brief Oklahoma run, then put the game away. As the lead grew to thirty points in the second half, the delirious crowd chanted, "We're number one!" and the Tigers eased to an emphatic 84-64 triumph. Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs would not dispute the fans' take on Mizzou's standing. "I'd be pretty stupid to say they don't deserve to be number one," he said. "What would the number one team do to us then?"

I've told this story before, but in 2008, as Missouri was gaining 651 yards and scoring 69 points on Nevada, as they were scoring touchdowns of 80 (Chase Daniel pass to Jeremy Maclin), 59 (Derrick Washington run), 49 (Daniel to Maclin), and 32 yards (Tommy Saunders to Chase Coffman), The Beef and I looked at each other and said, "This offense is never going to be better than this." It couldn't be. The peak for the Daniel offense happened that Saturday in Columbia.

While Norm Stewart's squad would continue to thrive -- the Tigers won two more conference titles in 1982 and 1983 and won the Big 8 Tournament and reached the Sweet 16 again in 1982 -- it still probably never got better than that week, from one Saturday night in Lincoln to the next in Columbia. This was the greatest week of Mizzou's greatest era.