Marquee matchup pits Jayhawks against Tigers
Columbia, MO – The most anticipated game in the Big 12 has 10 foes Kansas and Missouri collide in Columbia, with positioning atop the conference standings at stake.
The eighth-ranked Jayhawks lead the Big 12 with an 8-1 mark. Bill Self's squad, which is 18-4 overall, had a 10-game win streak halted at Iowa State last weekend (72-64), but bounced back in a big way three days ago in Lawrence, routing the Oklahoma Sooners, 84-62.
The fourth-ranked Tigers are just one game back at 7-2 in Big 12 play. Frank Haith's first season in Columbia has gone quite well with the team sitting at 20-2 overall. Missouri comes in having won two straight and six of its last seven games, including a hard-fought 67-66 decision at Texas on Monday.
This is the 266th meeting in this historic rivalry that dates back to 1907. Kansas holds a 171-94 series advantage and has won each of the last five meetings.
Kansas shot just .393 from the floor in the first half, but still led by three points at intermission against Oklahoma this week. The Jayhawks blew the game open after the break however, draining an eye-popping 20-of-28 shots from the floor (.714) to run away from the Sooners. All-American candidate Thomas Robinson was once again unstoppable down low, finishing with 20 points and 17 rebounds. He was actually trumped in the scoring column by point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who finished with 21 points and six assists. Center Jeff Withey got into the act with 15 points, while Travis Releford chipped in 12.
The scoring deluge is nothing new for the Jayhawks, who are averaging a steady 75.6 ppg, on a healthy .484 shooting. The team is doing all the little things right as well, averaging an impressive 16 assists per game and outrebounding foes by just over six boards per game. Of course, Robinson is a big reason for that, as he has to be considered a favorite for National Player of the Year honors, averaging 17.6 points and 12.0 rebounds per game this season. Taylor provides the perfect complement with his ability to score from the outside (16.7 ppg), as well as distribute (5.3 apg). Releford (9.8 ppg), Elijah Johnson (9.1 ppg) and Withey (8.5 ppg) round out the starting five.
Missouri is one of the few teams that would welcome a shootout with Kansas. The Tigers use a four-guard set, but are definitely comfortable in their own skin, shooting .498 from the floor (fifth nationally) and putting up 81.2 ppg (sixth nationally). Marcus Denmon leads the charge in the backcourt, averaging 17.2 ppg. He gets plenty of help from Kim English and his 14.1 ppg. The pair are both at their best draining the long ball, combining for 107 of the team's 169 three-pointers to date. Ricardo Ratliffe (14.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) is the team's resident muscle down low. Michael Dixon (12.1 ppg) is one of the best sixth men in the game. The emergence of sophomore point guard Phil Pressey has provided stability as well. The 5-10 youngster is netting 9.7 ppg and is the conference's top distributor at 6.1 assists per game.
Dixon saved the day against Texas this week, coming off the bench to hit 9- of-10 shots from the floor, leading all scorers with 21 points in 27 minutes of work, including the game-winning layup with 31 seconds remaining in the one-point victory. Ratliffe and Phil Pressey netted 13 points apiece, but Demon and English struggled, combining for just 14 points and going a miserable 6-of-20 from the floor.