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Missouri visits Texas in pivotal Big 12 affair

The Missouri Tigers and Texas Longhorns square off for the second time this season, when the two meet in a Big 12 Conference clash tonight in Austin.

Missouri is an impressive 19-2 on the season, and both losses have come in conference (Kansas State, Oklahoma State). Still, at 6-2 in the Big 12, the Tigers are currently tied with Baylor for second place, both teams just a game back of front-running Kansas (7-1). Mizzou bounced back from last week's setback in Stillwater by knocking off visiting Texas Tech on Saturday, 63-50, to run its home record this season to a perfect 12-0. The Tigers are 3-2 in true road games, and 7-2 outside of Columbia all told when you factor in its 4-0 mark in neutral-site affairs.

Texas comes in sporting a 13-8 overall record, and the team has lost five of its first eight Big 12 bouts. The Longhorns' most recent setback occurred at Baylor on Saturday, 76-71, but they should be brimming with confidence this evening as they own a stellar 12-1 record when playing in front of the hometown faithful this season. Since staging a seven-game win streak from November 26-December 17, UT has gone just 4-6 in what has to be considered a down year for coach Rick Barnes and his normally solid program. The 'Horns are in the midst of a six-game stretch in which they will face five ranked opponents.

Missouri knotted the all-time series at 12-12 by beating Texas in Columbia, 84-73, on January 14. In that game, the Tigers' Ricardo Ratliffe scored 21 points, Marcus Denmon logged a double-double consisting of 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Phil Pressey had one as well with 18 points and 10 assists. For Texas, J'Covan Brown poured in 34 points thanks in large part to a sizzling 6- of-7 effort from three-point range.

Missouri is the highest scoring team in the Big 12 this year, averaging 81.9 ppg while also leading the league in field goal percentage (.499) and free- throw percentage (.778). The team ranks second in three-point FG percentage (.380). Fortunately, those efforts have been able to sustain the Tigers, as they are one of the worst defensive teams in the conference, yielding typical shooting efforts of .430 overall and .351 from beyond the arc -- both of which rank last in the league. However, coach Frank Haith's club is first in steals (9.43 per game), turnover margin (+5.48) and assist-to-turnover margin (1.54), so as you can see there isn't much the Tigers can't achieve, or overcome. Mizzou boasts three of the Big 12's top 11 scorers in Denmon (17.8 ppg), Ratliffe (14.8 ppg) and Kim English (14.4 ppg), and four of the top-20 when you add super-sub Michael Dixon (11.7 ppg) to the mix. Ratliffe, who is hitting his field goal attempts at an eye-popping 75.1 percent, produces on the glass as well, grabbing 6.9 rpg to tie for fifth in the conference. Missouri had little trouble getting past a hapless Texas Tech squad on Saturday, as the Tigers got 22 points from English, 19 from Denmon and a career-high-tying 12 assists from Phil Pressey. Mizzou held the Red Raiders to 45.5 percent field goal efficiency, while not necessarily ideal, but certainly a whole lot better than the 59 percent it allowed to Oklahoma State in the previous outing. A 19-2 edge in points from the foul line coupled with 21 Tech turnovers clearly helped the Tigers' cause.

While Missouri has the best scoring offense in the Big 12, Texas lays claim to its top individual scorer in Brown, a senior guard who despite shooting just 41.5 percent from the floor, averages 19.7 ppg. Brown also leads the team in steals (27) while ranking second in assists (84), and he has twice as many three-pointers (52) at his closest teammate. Sheldon McClellan is UT's only other double-digit scorer on the season, but his average of 11.0 ppg isn't going to scare any opponent, or make them shift their focus away from Brown. Myck Kabongo (9.9 ppg) is close to joining the ranks, but his primary goal on the floor is to get his teammates involved in the offense as he hands out 5.5 apg to rank fourth in the conference. As a team, the Longhorns put up 74.4 ppg on the strength of 6.3 three-pointers per outing, both of which rank them fourth in the conference. UT's foes are shooting just 39.5 percent from the field in netting 65.4 ppg. Brown poured in 32 points, and Kabongo chipped in with a dozen more, but the team shot just 40 percent from the floor, missing 17 of its 24 three-point tries along the way, and they dropped a five-point decision to Baylor as a result. The 'Horns had half as many turnovers as did the Bears (18-9), but the home team outscored the visitors 27-16 at the charity stripe.