COLUMBIA — Junior forward Laurence Bowers stuck his nose into the middle of his palm, his fingers stretching upward toward his hairline. His words were muffled as they escaped around the sides of his hand.
No. 9 Missouri Tigers (14-1) at Colorado Buffaloes (12-4)
WHEN: 12:47 p.m.
WHERE: Coors Event Center, Boulder, Colo.
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM; KCMQ/96.7 FM
TV: KMIZ/Channel 17
“It’s a machine, like a tube. You put it over the face, strap it on, and it simulates the air in Colorado,” Bowers said.
At 5,430 feet, Boulder, Colo. is a tricky place to play compared to Columbia (elevation: 889 feet). But, one machine in the training room of the Missouri men's basketball team has been making the elevation adjustment easier on the Tigers since 2007. No. 9 Missouri is set to begin Big 12 Conference play against the Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday at the Coors Event Center.
On the court, Missouri does nothing different during practices to prepare for the altitude change.
“The way Coach (Mike Anderson) keeps our guys in shape, we feel like we’re prepared to go to different places like that,” assistant coach Matt Zimmerman said.
But, in the training room, Missouri players use a Hypoxico Altitude Training System to prepare themselves for the lower oxygen levels they will encounter in the mountains. A tube connects a mask to the machine's generator, which exposes players to different stages, each with less oxygen than the previous. After a series of exposures over the course of weeks, the players' bodies begin to adapt. David Deets, Missouri's associate director of strength and conditioning, monitors the sessions.
In a 2007 interview with the Missourian, he described how the machine works:
“It builds up your VO2 (maximum oxygen uptake) max, and your red blood cells go up," Deets said.
"In turn, your body gets used to going off less oxygen so your endurance levels start to go up. You recover faster. That’s the reason we got it. Going to Colorado, you’re going to have to play in a different altitude."
While Bowers said doesn't think the altitude difference has much effect on his play, he won't argue against the benefit of the machine.
"I think it's mental, but I’m quite sure it does work. He (Deets) wouldn’t have us doing it if it doesn’t work,” Bowers said.
Strong bench important in Boulder
Zimmerman said he thinks strong bench play is a big factor when Missouri goes on the road to play the Buffaloes.
“At Colorado we’ve always had to play a lot of guys, because of the depth, and because of the elevation. We always seem like we play our bench a lot,” Zimmerman said.
Missouri likes to run, and the ability to substitute a fresh player is key when someone on the court needs a break.
"It’s never really real noticeable. You’ll hear them talk about it after the game or something. It’s usually one or two guys. They’ll talk about how ‘I couldn’t get my wind’ or how it took them a second to catch their breath," Zimmerman said.
Currently, the Tigers' bench is somewhat depleted — according Missouri's standards.
"Right now our bench is a hair short, because Phillip (Pressey) is out. We've been playing nine guys," Zimmerman said.
Pressey, recovering from a broken bone in his right hand, had his cast removed earlier this week. Anderson has not yet said if Pressey will play against Colorado.
Still, Missouri's available reserve players have gotten valuable playing time during the nonconference season, something that will help on Saturday as well as throughout the rest of the season.
“That’s going to be important. Not just in Colorado, but for the Big 12,” Bowers said.
Former Grandview player leads Colorado
During his time in high school in Grandview, Mo., Alec Burks remained under the recruiting radar of Missouri and Kansas, but chose to play for the Buffaloes when he graduated.
Last year, Burks became the first Colorado freshman to score more than 500 points in a season (a 17.1 points per game average), earning him the award for Big 12 Conference freshman of the year.
This season, Burks is putting up even better numbers, leading Colorado in scoring with 19.1 points per game.