After cruising through its non-conference schedule with little
difficulty, Missouri is focused on the more difficult challenges
Enjoying its best start in 30 years, the seventh-ranked Tigers
look to keep rolling as they open Big 12 play Tuesday night against
Missouri (13-0) moved up one spot in this week’s AP poll after
keeping its unblemished record intact with Friday’s 75-68 victory
at Old Dominion. Senior Marcus Denmon scored 17 of his 19 points in
the second half – including the go-ahead 3-pointer with just over a
“We’re really happy with 13 wins heading into conference play,
but we understand that none of those wins matter,” said Denmon, who
ranks third in the conference with an average of 18.7 points.
Though Missouri had plenty to celebrate in 2011, it knows 2012
brings consistently tougher competition in the Big 12 – including
unbeaten Baylor and two other ranked foes in Kansas and Kansas
“You understand, once you get to January, late December, you’re
playing good teams for the rest of the year,” senior Kim English
If their recent history in this series is any indication, the
Tigers have to like their chances of extending their best start
since opening 19-0 in 1981-82. Missouri has posted five consecutive
home victories over Oklahoma (10-2) by an average of 10.8 points –
including an 84-61 win Feb. 12.
The Sooners’ two losses came 83-63 to Saint Louis on Nov. 27 in
Anaheim and 56-55 to Cincinnati on Thursday in a virtual home game
for the Bearcats. Oklahoma, though, bounced back two days later to
defeat Northwestern State 83-63.
“We have taken a lot of steps. Most importantly, we have gotten
a little bit tougher,” coach Lon Kruger said. “Big 12 (play) is
exciting. Guys look forward to it. Guys look forward to every
“When you get to conference play all across the country, it
takes on a little added level of enthusiasm. That will be no
different here. The challenge is tough. Every time we line up, 18
times, it’s going to be a huge test.”
The Sooners are paced by junior guard Steven Pledger, who ranks
just ahead of Denmon with 18.8 points per game thanks to 55.0
percent shooting – 48.4 percent from 3-point range.
Pledger, who posted just 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting during
last season’s road loss to the then-No. 19 Tigers, scored 18 on
Saturday and will likely need to come out with another big effort
if the Sooners hope to keep up with Missouri.
The Tigers, averaging 86.2 points, lead the nation in shooting a
remarkable 51.7 percent from the floor. They’ve won 27 straight
home games over unranked opponents by an average of 23.9
Oklahoma, meanwhile, has dropped 16 of 17 conference games as
the visiting team – including its last five in 2010-11. The Sooners
have also lost 12 consecutive meetings with ranked foes by an
average of 15.4 points.
In addition to trying to slow down Denmon and English, Oklahoma
could have its hands full with big man Ricardo Ratliffe and point
guard Phil Pressey.
Ratliffe is averaging 14.2 points on 76.1 percent shooting – the
best in Division I – while Pressey has posted at least five assists
in a school-record eight straight games, totaling 61 over that