COLUMBIA — If the Missouri men’s basketball team is anxious about its date with the Kansas Jayhawks on Monday, it sure did a good job of hiding its nerves Saturday night. The Tigers seemed perfectly poised when asked about their primetime game against the buzzsaw that is Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse.
"It’s five-on-five, three refs, two coaches, one ball. It’s basketball, just like it is at home, back on the playground. It's basketball. Fans don't make no free throws, they don't steal the ball from you. It's still us versus them," Missouri junior guard Kim English said.
No. 20 Missouri Tigers (18-5, 4-4 Big 12)
at No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks (22-1, 7-1 Big 12)
WHEN: 8:10 p.m.
WHERE: Allen Fieldhouse Lawrence, Kansas
RADIO: KTGR/1480 AM, 100.5 FM
Surely Phil Pressey is nervous. The Tigers' freshman guard will be experiencing the rivalry for the first time.
“I’m going to take it just like I take every other game," Pressey said. "It’s really not that big of a deal for me because I’m playing basketball. That’s what I love to do.”
Perhaps it was easy for the players to show such a relaxed attitude less than an hour after they defeated Colorado 89-73 at Mizzou Arena. Pressey and English were sitting in black Missouri folding chairs in front of a backdrop covered with Missouri logos. It’s not hard to seem comfortable at home.
“Unfortunately, yes. It’s kind of easy to have energy at home. You know, one big play will get the crowd going,” English said.
Missouri has won 49 of its past 51 games at home, including its current streak of 14 straight victories at Mizzou Arena. In Columbia, Missouri plays its game. Stifling defense leads to easy points off of turnovers. Players make the extra pass and opponents are rattled.
On the road, the machine that runs so smoothly inside Mizzou Arena has sputtered. Rebounds and shooting percentage decrease, and costly turnovers go up. Missouri has lost all four of its Big 12 Conference road games this season.
The Tigers have yet to find a way to transport their success anywhere but Columbia.
“We have to take that same mentality on the road. We can do it. We just have to do it consistently,” English said.
Missouri coach Mike Anderson said he thinks his team is close, noting that one road win often turns into more.
“I think we’re close to doing it possibly at times. Hopefully we can build on it. It’s about experience. You’ve gotta go through some things,” Anderson said, adding that he hopes his team figures its problems out quickly with Big Monday approaching.
If there is one place the Tigers have gone through adversity in the past, it is in Lawrence, Kan. Missouri hasn't won there in 11 years.
“Streaks don’t mean too much. We don’t go into any game expecting to lose. They put their shoes on just like us,” English said.
And while the tying of the shoes might be universal, the location of the court they step on has made a difference for Missouri so far this season.
“There’s no question about it. It’s a tremendous task," Anderson said.