Missouri-Kansas St. Preview
Although his team still being unbeaten carries some added pressure, Missouri coach Frank Haith wants his players to continue to relax and have fun.
The seventh-ranked Tigers would undoubtedly enjoy earning their first road win over No. 23 Kansas State in nearly eight years Saturday.
Missouri, off to its best start since winning 19 in a row to open the 1981-82 season, remains one of four unbeaten teams along with fellow Big 12 school Baylor, Syracuse and Murray State. The Tigers (14-0, 1-0) got the conference portion of their schedule off to a flying start with an 87-49 rout of visiting Oklahoma on Tuesday.
"They are enjoying themselves, having fun. Winning is a lot of fun, right," Haith said. "I want our guys to relax. I say that every game, relax and enjoy yourself, enjoy the moment. We have great leadership, and this team has been through it. I mean, if you have good players, it makes our job easy."
Haith's job might be even easier if his somewhat undersized team can have another strong performance on the boards. Oklahoma entered the game as the Big 12 leader in rebounding margin but Missouri won the battle on the glass 38-23.
The Tigers got help from unlikely sources with guard Kim English, who scored a team-best 23 points, nearly matching a career high with nine rebounds. Leading scorer Marcus Denmon (18.8 ppg) added 20 points and seven boards.
The tallest Missouri players who regularly see action are 6-foot-8 Ricardo Ratliffe, a 76.7 percent shooter, and 6-9 reserve Steve Moore. The Tigers rank among the bottom three teams in the Big 12 in rebounds (35.1 per game) and rebounding margin (4.0).
"We've got to gang-rebound," Haith said. "We've got to all get in there and get in the fray. We're quick enough, we've got enough speed."
While Kansas State has one 6-11 player on the roster and another at 6-10, none of its projected starters stand above Ratliffe, and the Wildcats (11-2, 0-1) are coming off a game in which they were outrebounded by a 50-26 margin.
Kansas State, which averaged 7.1 more boards than its previous opponents, also shot a season-low 31.6 percent during a 67-49 defeat at No. 14 Kansas on Wednesday. With a team-best 15 points, leading scorer Rodney McGruder (12.7 ppg) was one of just two players in double figures for the Wildcats, who did manage to cut an 18-point deficit to three with 12:30 remaining.
"I've never in 27 years, including coaching 13-year-olds, I've never been part of a game where our team got its tail whipped in the physical part of the game the way we did today," coach Frank Martin said. "It was a complete mismatch."
Kansas State didn't have a problem on the boards during an 80-70 home win over then-No. 20 Missouri on Feb. 26, outrebounding the Tigers 39-24. The 6-foot-11 Jordan Henriquez had a team-best nine of those, but the junior has just 10 over his last four games off the bench.
Henriquez had 14 points and six boards in Columbia, Mo., on Jan. 17, but the Wildcats fell 75-59 to the then-No. 13 Tigers.
Missouri has lost seven straight in Manhattan since a 79-69 victory Feb. 28, 2004, shooting 39.0 percent during that skid. The Tigers hit 40.7 percent in last season's visit.
Another Missouri loss at Kansas State would even the series at 117-all with one matchup remaining before the Tigers head to the SEC.