COLUMBIA — Nothing could have prepared Keith Ramsey for what he experienced when Missouri forward Justin Safford was injured.
He expected the increased minutes on the court. But the mornings after in his past three games came as a surprise.
Wednesday’s Big 12 tournament game
No. 5 seed Missouri (22-9, 10-6 Big 12) vs. No. 12 seed Nebraska (14-17, 2-14 Big 12)
WHEN: 2 p.m.
WHERE: Sprint Center, Kansas City
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
Series: Missouri leads 125-91. MU won last meeting 74-59 Feb. 20.
MISSOURI KEY: No free threes: The Huskers are the second-best 3-point shooting team in the Big 12, and their only chance at an upset might be to make a ton of 3-pointers. Top guard Ryan Anderson is their most dangerous threat and shoots 43 percent.
ABOUT NEBRASKA: Coach: Doc Sadler, 4th season
Last season: 18-13, (8-8 Big 12)
The skinny: Nebraska is the Big 12’s worst team and hasn’t won away from Lincoln, Neb., since December of last year. In the Huskers’ two meetings with Missouri this season, they lost by an average of 16 points. Barring an improbable run to the tournament title, they’re playing solely for pride.
NEBRASKA KEY: Finish strong: The last time these two teams played, NU trailed by just two heading into halftime, but collapsed in the second half, losing the game by 15. NU showed it can play with MU, and if it can control the tempo in the second half, where MU is the most dangerous, it has a chance to win.
WATCH FOR: Christian Standhardinger — The 6-8 freshman forward has quickly become an offensive force for NU. He is averaging 13.3 points as a starter and scored 25 points against ISU. He could have a big game against an MU team with little depth in the front court.
Ramsey said his whole body aches. His muscles scream with every step and he has bruises from the past night’s battles for rebounds and steals that are ripe and sensitive.
“It’s real painful,” Ramsey said. “I’m sore especially from guarding the best big man on the team, banging with him all game. It takes a load on your body.”
Ramsey’s aches and pains have become a necessary evil for the Missouri men’s basketball team, which has needed him to play almost entire games to anchor a thin frontcourt that has been struggling to replace Safford, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Feb. 24.
"He is just exerting all the energy he has," Laurence Bowers, a Missouri forward, said. "I'm quite sure he is getting a little bit tired, but he isn't showing it and he has never let coach know."
Despite playing in a fast-paced system that sends players to the bench for frequent breaks, Ramsey has flourished. In the past three games, he has played an average of 38 minutes and seen both his scoring and rebounding increase. But he never puts his hands on his knees while gasping for air and seems to play with non-stop energy throughout the game.
“I always play a lot of minutes for every team, so I’m used to that,” Ramsey said. “Just because I don’t look tired doesn’t mean I am. I’ll be exhausted, but I just fight through it because I want to be out there for my team.”
Part of the reason for Ramsey’s success has been his increased emphasis on offense. Known as a defensive player, Ramsey has used his minutes to find scoring opportunities. He has been more aggressive grabbing offensive rebounds to make a quick layup, and has even taken some jump shots.
“He’s been scoring a lot more points than a lot of people thought he is capable of,” Bowers said.
Ramsey’s play has been crucial for the Tigers. Both Bowers and forward Steve Moore have struggled to stay on the court because of foul trouble and have scored a mere 17 points combined in the past three games.
“It’s been huge,” Bowers said of Ramsey’s play. “Justin logged a lot of minutes, and speaking for myself, I’ve been playing a lot more than usual. We just got to try and fill that void.”
Ramsey's play has helped the Tigers so far, but coach Mike Anderson said it won’t work during the Big 12 Tournament. Without a bye, Missouri will need to win four games in four days if it wants to defend its tournament championship. Ramsey is likely to become worn out.
When fifth-seeded Missouri plays 12th-seeded Nebraska on Wednesday, Anderson hopes to get his less experienced forwards like John Underwood, who has only played in two Big 12 games, some playing time to rest Ramsey. And Moore should receive even more minutes.
“He’ll be a guy who is going to give you everything he’s got,” Anderson said of Ramsey. “But I think to have him down the stretch, as we have all year long, is going to be key for our team.”