Syracuse's Adrian Autry watched Missouri guard Melvin Booker score only a portion of his career-high 35 points against Wisconsin last Saturday, but it was enough for him to realize that he will have his hands full when they meet tonight in a NCAA West Regional semifinal at the Sports Arena.
"I didn't see the entire game, but you could see that he was stroking it pretty well," said Autry, a 6-foot-4 senior guard. "Going up against him will be like playing against somebody from back home."
That's the ultimate compliment for a guard when you consider that Autry grew up in New York City, which has turned out more than its share of outstanding backcourt players.
"He really shoots the ball well, but he also can put it on the ground," Autry said. "You have to play him straight up because he is not a one-dimensional type of player. Hopefully, he won't be shooting like he was (in the Tigers' victory over Wisconsin)."
Booker, the Big Eight Conference player of the year this season, averaged 18 points and four assists a game. Against Wisconsin, however, he took his game to a new level.
Booker made 11 of 14 attempts, including six of eight three-pointers, to lead Missouri to a 109-96 victory over the Badgers. He also had seven assists.
"We really didn't have an answer at all for Booker, who really might be the second-best player we have played against all year," said Wisconsin Coach Stu Jackson, whose Badgers played Glenn Robinson and Purdue twice this season.
Keeping the ball out of Booker's hands down the stretch will be important for the Orangemen tonight if they hope to advance to a regional final for the first time since 1989. Booker has scored in double figures in 47 of his last 49 games and in 18 games this season, he has scored 10 or more points in the second half.
Booker is the man Missouri turns to during crunch time, and Autry plays the same role for Syracuse.
In his four seasons with the Orangemen, Autry has gone from a freshman point guard playing alongside Billy Owens, LeRon Ellis and Dave Johnson--three future NBA first-round draft choices--to a senior leader who makes the plays when the game is on the line.
With 629 assists and 1,507 points, Autry is third and 12th, respectively, on Syracuse's all-time lists. He is only the second player in school history to record 600 assists and 1,500 points. Sherman Douglas is the other.
"The biggest improvement in my game over the years has been my leadership," said Autry, who averaged 16 points, six assists and five rebounds this season. "I began playing with players like Billy (Owens) and Dave (Johnson), and they all had a flair about them that helped make our teams great. I've just tried to get like that and do the same with this team."
Autry has been a steady force for Syracuse, which finished second in the Big East Conference this season. With a suspect bench, Autry has averaged 35.5 minutes per game.
"I'd put up our first five against anybody in the country," Autry said. "We come out and play with a lot of heart. It doesn't matter who we are playing, because nothing fazes us. We just go out and play our game."