COLUMBIA – Playing without the injured Justin Safford for the first time during Saturday’s 63-53 loss at Kansas State, the three remaining forwards on the Missouri men’s basketball team held their own.
They weren't outmuscled under the basket, helping Missouri total just three fewer rebounds than the bigger Wildcats.
Missouri (21-8, 9-5 Big 12) vs. Iowa State (14-15, 3-11 Big 12)
WHEN: 7 p.m., Tuesday
WHERE: Hilton Coliseum, Ames, Iowa
TV: Fox Sports Midwest (Mediacom, Direct TV, Dish TV)
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM,
Series: MU leads 144-84. Missouri won last meeting 65-56 on Feb. 10.
Play free of fouls: Down to three forwards without Justin Safford, foul trouble could become an issue for Missouri. In the Cyclones’ three conference wins, they’ve shot about twice as many free throws as their opponent.
ABOUT IOWA STATE
Coach: Greg McDermott, 4th season
LAST SEASON: 15-17
(4-11 Big 12)
THE SKINNY: In conference play, the Cyclones have only beaten fellow bottom-feeders Colorado and Nebraska. Iowa State has the second-worst turnover margin in the Big 12, making the Cyclones vulnerable to Missouri’s attacking press.
IOWA STATE KEY
slow motion: The Cyclones may not be the deepest team in the Big 12, but they do have a major size advantage over the Tigers. ISU must make it a half court game and let star forwards Marcus Gilstrap and Craig Brackins attack Missouri’s thin front line.
Marcus Gilstrap: The 6-6 forward is on the fast track for the Big 12 newcomer of the year award according to Anderson, and is averaging nearly 15 points and 9.1 rebounds. Gilstrap is coming off a career-high 26 points against Colorado and gave MU problems with 18 points and 9 rebounds the first time the teams played this season.
The game was the first big test for Steve Moore, who had been averaging less than 10 minutes per game but was the clear candidate to fill in for Safford. Moore answered the call, swatting five blocks in 19 minutes. He played solid defense throughout his first game as one of Missouri's primary big men.
“It definitely felt different. I really don’t know what to say … ,” Moore said Monday, slightly startled not just by increased playing time but also by the extra media attention.
Coach Mike Anderson said the 6-foot-9 forward will continue to play more minutes. Without Safford, Moore is the player with the biggest adjustment to make.
“We’re loving Steve right now,” forward Keith Ramsey said after Saturday’s game. “He’s stepping up on the defensive end. I think he needs to get used to game shape right now, but once he gets used to game shape, he’s going to help us more.”
It will be difficult for Moore alone to make up for Safford’s 8.6 points per game. Moore didn’t score Saturday and has never been an offensive threat.
“I think Steve Moore has really responded, and hopefully he’ll be in a better rhythm to catch the ball in the paint and score,” Anderson said. “I think he gives us a presence. I think he gives us a guy with some girth, some toughness down there.”
He’ll also be called on to spell Missouri’s two starting forwards, Ramsey and Laurence Bowers. Ramsey played a season-high 37 minutes Saturday.
“He can’t do that every night,” Anderson said. “It’s hard for a guy to do that, especially to play the way we want to play.”
While Ramsey had a productive game with 10 points and eight rebounds, Bowers played what he called his worst game of the season. It was a rare off night for the usually steady Bowers, and Anderson called it “real surprising.” Missouri’s third-leading scorer, Bowers failed to score in 23 minutes. He said Safford’s injury altered his approach in a negative way.
“Losing a crucial player on your team, it’s going to be in the back of your mind,” Bowers said. “For me personally, it made me want to do something so much, and having that mentality kind of messed me over in our game against K-State because I didn’t perform well. I felt like I had too much pressure on me.”
Even if they have to play around 25 or 30 minutes a game, both Bowers and Ramsey said stamina won’t be a problem because Missouri’s practices prepare players to play that long.
A bigger issue could be foul trouble. With just under 10 minutes left against Kansas State, Bowers committed his fourth personal foul, putting Anderson in an uncomfortable position that is sure to come up again with Safford out. With a three-man rotation at forward, Missouri can’t afford for one of its big men to foul out.
“Apparently every game I’ve started, I’ve gotten into foul trouble quick,” said Bowers, who came off the bench until Safford’s injury.
Safford update: Anderson said Monday that Safford will continue to rehabilitate his torn left anterior cruciate ligament and hold off on surgery for the time being.
A torn ACL usually leads to season-ending surgery that occurs quickly after the injury to ensure the player can get back for the next season, but Missouri might be holding out hope that Safford could return in some capacity for the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m sure he’ll continue to be reevaluated as we go,” Anderson said. “That’s basically where he’s at right now. He’s doing all the things he can to try to come back, but as of right now, he won’t be back. But you never know.”
Safford suffered the injury to his left knee Wednesday in the first half of Missouri's win against Colorado at Mizzou Arena. He landed awkwardly following a layup and had to be helped off the floor.