Missouri’s Anderson matches wits with Illinois’ Groce

ST. LOUIS (AP) Kim Anderson was on the bench alongside Norm Stewart for Missouri’s memorable triple-overtime victory over Illinois in the 1993 Braggin’ Rights game.

He’s about to get his first chance running the show.

Missouri’s new head coach will match wits Saturday with Illinois’ John Groce in an otherwise low-wattage matchup in the neutral-site series.

”It’s a great game,” Groce said after practice Friday. ”A heavyweight boxing match. It’s great for the universities.”

Illinois (8-3) is unranked for the pre-Christmas game for the second straight year, having lost three of five, and Missouri (5-5) is off to a rocky start. For just the eighth time in 34 games in the series, neither team is ranked.

”I hate to keep saying this, and I know you all are probably tired of hearing it, but we have to develop consistency,” Anderson said. ”As you watched, you might say, `Why is he playing this guy? Why is he playing this guy?’ Well, we’re trying to develop some consistency.”

Last season, the Tigers were the last SEC unbeaten to fall, and it happened in a one-point loss to the Fighting Illini. Two years ago, Illinois came in ranked 10th and Missouri 12th and were a combined 21-1.

Illinois ended a four-game losing skid in the series with a 65-64 victory last December, and leads the series 21-12. Illinois won nine in a row from 2000-08.

”As a team we’re not where we want to be yet, but I kind of like that,” Groce said after practice Friday. ”We have a high ceiling.”

Sophomore Johnathan Williams has been Missouri’s leading scorer and rebounder the last five games, averaging 14.2 points and 7.6 boards, and has had double-digit attempts at the free throw line three of the last four games.

Freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar is the Tigers’ leading scorer with a 12.6-point average and freshman forward Jakeenan Gant is coming off an impressive delayed debut with 13 points and two blocked shots in 15 minutes off the bench.

”He has to get in better condition, but he’s a guy who keeps himself in shape,” Anderson said of Gant. ”I was impressed he came in and he just kind of fit in. He was aggressive offensively, but he wasn’t selfish.”

Rayvonte Rice leads Illinois’ four-guard attack with a 17.3-point average and 6.5 rebounds. Malcolm Hill averages 13 points. Illinois is coming off a 73-55 victory over Hampton on Wednesday and is 2-2 on neutral courts this season. Missouri is coming off a 74-58 home loss to Xavier last Saturday.

Illinois has six players with experience in the series. Rayvonte Rice had 14 points and four rebounds last year and sophomore Malcolm Hill, who averages 13 points, is from nearby Fairview Heights, Mo.

”It’s going to be really fun,” Hill said. ”This is a big-time game. It’s one of the best rivalries in America.”

The Fighting Illini have one more non-conference game against Kennesaw State Dec. 27 before opening Big Ten play at Michigan Dec. 30. Four of the first five conference games are on the road.

Missouri has two more tuneups before beginning SEC play, facing Oklahoma State Dec. 30 and Lipscomb Jan. 3.