Tigers get extra rest before date with Kansas

Missouri kept its eyes on Texas. Now, it can look ahead.
The Tigers, ranked fourth in both major polls, host No. 8 Kansas on Saturday after earning a 67-66 win over the Longhorns on Monday. The weekend game gets a prime-time tip-off and a national audience. ESPN’s “College GameDay” show also will travel to Columbia, airing live from Mizzou Arena on Saturday morning.
Sure, this may be the last meeting between the century-old rivals in Columbia for the near future. But what’s more important to the Tigers is the race for a regular-season conference title in their last season in the Big 12.
Missouri (20-2, 7-2 Big 12) sits alone in second place in the Big 12, at least until Baylor (19-2, 6-2) plays on Wednesday. The Tigers now look directly up at the Jayhawks (17-4, 7-1). Barring an unlikely upset by Oklahoma in Lawrence, Kan., on Wednesday, Missouri will host Kansas on Saturday with the ability to pull even atop the Big 12 standings.
A Kansas win over Missouri would afford the Jayhawks some breathing room as the season dwindles. But, a Missouri win — coupled with an undefeated week by Baylor — would make the conference title run a three-team race.
Kansas represents the Tigers’ single-biggest test of the season. It all starts with the best player in the conference, and perhaps the nation, Thomas Robinson. The junior averages 17.5 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, and he is an athletic forward who can play above or below the rim. Missouri will struggle to slow Robinson, as both of the forwards in the rotation (Ricardo Ratliffe and Steve Moore) might have difficulty matching Robinson’s athleticism.
After playing four games in nine days, Missouri gets a four-day break. With the recent shooting struggles (under 43 percent in each of the past three games), the extra rest may be necessary.
“We’ve had these quick turnaround games,” coach Frank Haith said last week, “and this stretch here has been heavy. Our goal as coaches is to keep them in shape, but we’ve got to keep them sharp and also keep them fresh.”
Come Saturday, however, adrenaline may be critical for both teams. In a rivalry as heated as the Border Showdown, fatigue is a word seldom heard.
STAR WATCH: Michael Dixon returned to “super-sub” status against the Longhorns on Monday. Dixon, who hasn’t started a game for the Tigers all season, began conference play averaging 12.6 points per game off the bench. He scored in double figures in five of the first six Big 12 games. In each of the past three games, however, Dixon failed to break double figures. Against Texas, Dixon exploded for 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting, and he hit the game-winning shot with less than 30 seconds remaining. His re-emergence could be a boon for Missouri against Kansas, as the Tigers have a short bench.


Kansas game is a hot ticket
–With Missouri’s imminent departure to the SEC, it appears the Border Showdown rivalry between the Tigers and Kansas is in its twilight. On Saturday, in what may be the final meeting between the two teams in Columbia, the cheapest ticket listed on StubHub.com was $203 for an upper-level seat as of Monday. The most expensive? $2,000 for a lower-level, mid-court seat.
–Missouri has made more free throws (377) than its opponents have attempted (322). That stat took a hit against Texas, however. The Longhorns went to the line 24 times, compared to just 11 attempts by Missouri. The Tigers connected on eight free throws.
–A visit by reeling Texas Tech seemed like the perfect way for Missouri to forget a disappointing loss four days earlier at Oklahoma State.
Yet the Red Raiders proved tough to put away. Winless in the Big 12, they shot better than 40 percent from the field for the first time against a conference opponent while holding the Tigers to three five-minute stretches in which they went without a field goal.
Still, Missouri got back on track with a 63-50 victory Jan. 28.
Afterward, there was no disappointment among the Tigers. Wins are what matter to first-year coach Frank Haith, who does not seem concerned at all with style points.
“We’re not a team that’s going to blow teams out all the time,” he said. “I think we get accustomed to seeing these guys on those runs, but when we don’t shoot the ball well, it can happen. … The most important thing is winning.”
That much the Tigers failed to do in their unexpected loss at Oklahoma State, which trailed in the second half before using a big rally to prevail 79-72. Missouri entered that game ranked second nationally, so the weight of the lofty ranking may have been too much.
Nonetheless, Missouri proved during the first half of Big 12 play that it will contend for the title in its last season as a conference member. Haith is to be credited for an even-keel approach veteran players like. Against Texas Tech, the Tigers found ways to scratch out a win despite frosty outside shooting and the inability of forward Ricardo Ratliffe to contribute much inside.
–The firestorm Missouri created by opting to accept an invitation to the SEC is not going to be doused anytime soon, at least not when Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas fires away. “Missouri made a very selfish decision,” Neinas told the Charleston Gazette. “It’s been very disruptive. Missouri gave us notice in November, and it’s pretty difficult to move forward then.” The context of Neinas’ comments was based on a look ahead to football scheduling for the 2012 Big 12 season. Negotiations between Missouri and the Big 12 over a withdrawal fee continue.
–The biggest sideshow at basketball games this time of year often involves football recruits making campus visits. Such was the case at the Jan. 28 game Missouri hosted against Texas Tech. Dorial Green-Beckham, considered by many services to be the nation’s top football prospect, attended the game and was serenaded by fans. During one time out, students engaged in the usual “M-I-Z … Z-O-U” chant replaced the last three letters with “D-G-B.” The wide receiver is from Springfield, Mo., and is also considering Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
–Missouri’s struggles from 3-point range during Big 12 play have been surprising since the Tigers shot better than 40 percent against nonconference opponents and were leading the conference. The Tigers were shooting just 33 percent against Big 12 opponents following a 6-for-21 performance in the 63-50 win against Texas Tech on Jan. 21.
Since a 12-for-21 effort in the Big 12 opener against Oklahoma, the Tigers cooled off considerably. G Marcus Denmon had struggled mightily against conference opponents, dipping below 25 percent in Big 12 play with a 1-for-6 showing against Tech.
“I’m not going to make a bigger deal of it than it is,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “(Denmon) knows he isn’t shooting the ball well, so what do I need to talk to him about? All I have to tell him is to continue taking good shots. He is our guy. I trust him.”
BY THE NUMBERS: 11 — Games in which Missouri has shot 80 percent or better from the free-throw line, most recently a 19-for-23 (.826) performance against Texas Tech on Jan. 28.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s a luxury to have a team where we have seven guys who can get it done on any given night. When a team can play unselfishly like that, we will be fine.” — Missouri G Kim English.

vs. Kansas, Feb. 4
KEY MATCHUPS: The showdown the Big 12 is anxiously awaiting could mark the last visit by Kansas for the foreseeable future. Kansas has declared it will not schedule any contests against Missouri stemming from the Tigers’ move to the SEC. The Jayhawks have won 10 of 11 in the series, including four of the last five in Columbia. F Thomas Robinson is a beast underneath. His size, along with that of C Jeff Withey, could pose problems for the shorter Tigers, who must try to get G Tyshawn Taylor out of rhythm as he runs the Kansas offense.
The improvement of F Ricardo Ratliffe, the only big to start in Missouri’s four-guard lineup, is essential with the Tigers shooting poorly from 3-point range. Ratliffe has been uncanny getting shots he can drain, and he continued to lead the nation with a 75.1 percent touch through Jan. 29. The Missouri backcourt is effective getting to the rim, particularly off turnovers in transition. That capacity offsets the team’s shaky 3-point shooting, though the Tigers still have the capacity to get hot.

The shooting slide of senior G Marcus Denmon in conference play continued Monday. He made three of 12 shots against Texas, and he is shooting 34.3 percent in conference play. Over his past three games, Denmon has made 11 of 43 field-goal attempts, including three of 17 3-point attempts.
Sophomore G Phil Pressey tied his career best with 12 assists in the Jan. 28 win against Texas Tech. It was the fifth time this season Pressey had at least 10 assists in a game.
Senior G Kim English scored a game-high 22 points against Texas Tech, netting four 3-pointers. He was limited to eight points in the win over Texas.