COLUMBIA — At the end of a pregame shootaround before the start of the Missouri men's basketball team's game Wednesday against Colorado, Zaire Taylor slowly separates himself from his teammates. He quickly turns and runs toward the visiting team's bench, more than five feet away from the 3-point line. A manager instinctively delivers a crisp pass to Taylor’s chest. With a flick of his wrist, Taylor swishes the ball through the net. The student section cheers.
“They (managers) know. They keep the ball for me and wait until I get my last shot,” Taylor said. “It’s an understood thing.”
Missouri (21-7, 9-4 Big 12) vs. Kansas State (23-4, 10-3 Big 12)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan, Kan.
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
SERIES: Tied 115-115. Missouri won last meeting Jan. 9 at Mizzou Arena.
Neutralize the big men:
In Missouri’s grind-it-out win Jan. 9, Kansas State big men Luis Colon and Curtis Kelly got in foul trouble and became irrelevant. Taking away the Wildcats’ forwards will be even tougher for MU without Justin Safford.
ABOUT KANSAS STATE
COACH: Frank Martin, 3rd season
LAST SEASON: 22-12 (9-7 Big 12)
THE SKINNY: The Wildcats were set on battling Kansas for the Big 12 title until the Jayhawks sealed it earlier this week. Now, Kansas State has to beat Missouri to maintain the No. 2 position in the conference. The Tigers haven’t won at rowdy Bramlage Coliseum since 2004.
KANSAS STATE KEY
DRAW FOULS: Kansas State leads the nation in free throws attempted and is third in free throws made. Attacking the Tigers, especially forwards Keith Ramsey and Laurence Bowers, could cause Missouri to think twice about going for risky steals that could lead to free throws.
JACOB PULLEN: The junior guard leads the Wildcats in scoring and has scored at least 20 points 11 times this season. Pullen and fellow guard Denis Clemente are one of the best backcourts in the country. Pullen has been a more consistent scorer and has posted double-figures each game.
Taylor has been shooting the last pregame shot since the start of last season. While some players like guard Kim English, listen to the same music before every game, Taylor wanted his own pregame ritual. Missouri manager Josh Dinkins said that the idea seemed like a natural fit for Taylor, who often goes out of his way to play one-on-one with the ball boys before games.
“He’s just always trying to mess with people. He should probably spend a little more time shooting regular threes than those buzzer beaters right before he goes into the locker room,” Dinkins said loudly teasing a laughing Taylor as he walked by.
Although Taylor said the pregame shot doesn’t affect how he will play in a game, Dinkins said he thinks Taylor is wrong. The Tigers rooted for Taylor to miss the pregame shot last season, because every time he made it, they seemed to lose. It wasn't until the game against Old Dominion in the South Padre Island invitational that the curse was broken.
The pregame shot has not only developed into a routine for Taylor, but it helps keep the team loose. At the end of shootarounds, Taylor often competes with his teammates for rebounds to be sure he will get the last shot, making them laugh. Dinkins said Taylor's quest always seems to put a smile on the players' faces whether the game is on the road or at home. That will be crucial as Missouri prepares to play No. 6 Kansas State at 7 p.m. Saturday night in Manhattan, Kan.
“He’s just always trying to have a good time. Make sure the moods are loose,” Dinkins said. “We got a couple good intense games coming up, and he obviously doesn’t want guys to get stiff or play with too much emotion.”
The pregame shot has even caught on with some of his teammates. At the sound of the buzzer signifying the end of the final pregame shootaround, guards Mike Dixon Jr. and Marcus Denmon often compete with Taylor for the last shot before heading to the bench for the start of the game. Taylor laughed at the idea of it becoming a trend, but said he isn’t surprised.
“It’s just the person I am,” Taylor said. “Sometimes people like to be like me. Some people are just like that, they just got that in them.”