COLUMBIA — More than a thousand miles away, while playing in a ballroom bordered by temporary bleachers, Ricardo Ratliffe recalled the atmosphere at Mizzou Arena.
“We had a lot of fans here," Ratliffe said from Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, in a phone interview Wednesday. "It kind of felt like home, just a smaller version,”
No. 11 Missouri (4-0)
vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-5)
When: 3 p.m.
Where: Mizzou Arena
Radio: KTGR/100.5 FM & 1580 AM
TV: KOMU/Channel 8
Player to watch: Missouri guard Kim English led the Tigers in scoring last season with an average of 14 points per game. Earlier this year, he was named to the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list. English has only scored in double digits twice this season. In Missouri's win over La Salle, the junior missed all five of his shots and only played eight minutes. English will most likely be looking to increase his offensive output.
After winning two games last week at Aventura Spa Palace in Playa Del Carmen, to claim the Cancun Challenge tournament title, the No. 11 Missouri men’s basketball team returns to its home court on Sunday for a game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Ratliffe said he is is looking forward to playing in Columbia again but was surprised by the number of Missouri basketball fans that made the trip to Mexico.
“I went to a junior college where we only had maybe 400 people a night, tops. It’s crazy to see maybe 100 people in Cancun at this resort,” Ratliffe said.
The trip to Mexico treated Ratliffe well. The junior transfer from Central Florida Community College scored 22 points and totaled 26 rebounds in Missouri’s two wins, including a 14-point, 14-rebound performance against La Salle that secured his spot alongside teammate Marcus Denmon on the all-tournament team.
For some fans, the combination of time at the beach with a chance to watch their favorite team was worth the expense. And while Ratliffe appreciated the support of the traveling Tigers crowd, he also welcomes a return to Mizzou Arena.
“We had quite a few fans, but it will feel good to get home,” Ratliffe said.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff has lost five consecutive games to start its season, most recently losing by seven to Hawaii. In the second game of their season, the Lions fell to Nebraska, one of Missouri’s Big 12 opponents, 80-43. Missouri is 3-0 in its series against the team.
Last year, the Golden Lions qualified for the NCAA Tournament and won their opening-round game against Winthrop before losing to Duke, the eventual national champion. This year the team is lead by junior guard Savalance Townsend, who has 12.3 points per game, and senior guard Allen Smith, who has 10.2 points per game. Freshman forward Daniel Broughton is averaging more than 10 points and five rebounds per game, as well.
A victory for Missouri on Sunday would stretch the Tigers' nonconference home game winning streak to 50. The last time the Tigers lost to a nonconference opponent at home was against Sam Houston State in 2005. Mike Anderson has coached Missouri for 42 of the 49 wins.
The Tigers’ return to Columbia will be brief. On Monday, the team will leave again, this time to play No. 16 Georgetown on Tuesday in Kansas City. Then, Missouri travels northwest to play Oregon on Thursday.
Odds are, no matter where Missouri plays, there will usually be some die-hard fans loyal enough to brave stretches of highway or maybe even hours on a plane to follow their team to away games. The dedication impresses Ratliffe, who only one year ago was playing basketball in front of home crowds that might barely outnumber the fans that now follow his team on the road.
“It’s like unreal to me that these people really care about this program that much,” Ratliffe said. “They must have spent all this money to come here (Mexico) and follow us wherever we go, just to cheer us on in a game.”