In the recent past, the Missouri basketball team has had the depth of an episode of "Married With Children." But in what is shaping up as a benchmark season for the Tigers, MU's reservoir of reserves has dazzled -- and never with more flair than Saturday at the Lloyd Noble Center.
Mizzou completed a rampaging cycle through the Big Eight Conference with a 104-94 victory over Oklahoma, thanks largely to scoring binges by backup guards Mark Atkins and Paul O'Liney.
Atkins flicked in a season-high 24 points, including a stupefying sequence of three 3-pointers in less than a minute. O'Liney, who joined the team as a walk-on in late December, had his best MU game with 20 points.
The victory was MU's 11th conference win in succession and the Tigers' sixth consecutive win overall. MU, ranked 20th, improved to 16-2 overall and 7-0 in the Big Eight -- despite OU coach Billy Tubbs' apparently incorrect contention that every coach in the Big Eight was rooting against MU on Saturday.
"Bill said everybody'd be pulling for him today, but I called the other six coaches and it was a 3-3 vote," MU coach Norm Stewart said jokingly.
Mizzou was 6-0 in conference play I saw the Tigers in person for the first time. The thought of an unbeaten Big 8 run was not yet viewed as something incredibly realistic -- they still had road games against Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State remaining, after all, not to mention home rematches against Oklaoma State, Oklahoma, and Nebraska.
The Big 8 wasn't quite what it had been when the 1993-94 season rolled around.
After a run of five consecutive runs to at least the Sweet 16, Tubbs' OU squad was tumbling; the Sooners finished the season No. 1 in 1990 but got upset by North Carolina in the NCAA second round, and from 1991-93, they made the tourney just once. (They would miss it in 1994, as well.)
After back-to-back Sweet 16s in 1991-92, Eddie Sutton's Oklahoma State wasn't quite as good. (Behind Bryant Reeves, the Cowboys would roll to the Final Four in 1995.)
Roy Williams' Kansas excellent but would finish the regular season 13th in the AP poll in 1994, its worst showing from 1992-98.
After losing Lon Kruger in 1990, Kansas State was staggering under Dana Altman. The Wildcats made the NCAAs in 1993, but that was one of only two trips between 1991-2007.
In Johnny Orr's last go-round at Iowa State, his Cyclones would limp to a 14-13 finish. They had been to the NCAAs six times between 1985-93 but were no threat that season.
Danny Nee's Nebraska would catch fire late in 1994, winning six of seven heading into the NCAAs, but they were glitchy under Nee, going to the NCAAs each year from 1991-94 but losing in the first round each time.
Colorado was in the middle of an abysmal stretch; the Buffaloes won 13 or fewer games 10 times in 12 seasons between 1985-96.
Still, the conference had the residue of something awesome that winter, and Mizzou was in the middle of something awesome itself.
And I was there.
I was born in Columbia in 1978, and despite my parents moving to Oklahoma just a couple of years later, my anti-social tendencies made me a Mizzou fan. I had gotten to attend a couple of home football games in 1991 and 1993 (both dominant wins over awful Oklahoma State teams), and a friend took me to Lloyd Noble for my first Mizzou basketball experience that Saturday in early 1994.
I already loved Mark Atkins and Paul O’Liney because I (and so many others) have always had a thing for no-conscience 3-point bombers. The stats say that Atkins and O’Liney only made 36% of their 3s that year, but that can’t be right — it felt more like 60%. And with me watching from the middle reaches of the Lloyd Noble bowl, they were ridiculous. O'Liney made three of seven bombs. Atkins made seven of 11. Melvin Booker, one of Mizzou’s Greatest, tossed in 18 points and seven assists on just six field goal attempts, an Ed Hightower crew called 29 fouls on Oklahoma (which, to say the least, drew Tubbs' ire), and Mizzou outscored the Sooners, 55-42, in the second half.
Oh yeah, and Jevon Crudup posted 25 and 15.
Between the amazing triple-OT win over Illinois, the sweep of Kansas, and the epic home win over Nebraska to close out the 14-0 conference run, this game gets overlooked. But it was a very Mizzou game, and more importantly, it was my Mizzou game. It gave me a bond with the team that I didn't previously have. And it will remain one of my favorite Mizzou memories.