COLUMBIA — Ricardo Ratliffe and the Missouri men's basketball team are adjusting well to life on the court without Laurence Bowers.
The absence of Bowers, who tore his ACL before the season started, left a vacancy in Missouri's starting lineup that Ratliffe has adequately filled so far.
Ratliffe sky-hooked, dunked and rebounded his way to 21 points en route to an 88-70 win against the University of Central Missouri in the Tigers' final exhibition game Monday night.
Bowers' injury puts significantly more pressure on Ratliffe to produce, especially with the four-guard offense new head coach Frank Haith is using. An offense with four shooters such as Missouri's allows for more flexibility and movement on the perimeter but puts more responsibility on Ratliffe.
"When we play inside-out through Ricardo, I think we're able to get really good shots and Ricardo had a good night in terms of just being aggressive," Haith said. "We need him being aggressive."
The new offense is not unfamiliar territory for Ratliffe, however. The 6-foot-8-inch forward played a similar system at Central Florida Community College, where he scored a school career record 1,653 points in two years.
And it's not as if he's totally alone.
Fellow senior Steve Moore will also see more playing time this season. Moore scored eight points in 16 minutes of playing time against Central Missouri, but Ratliffe said that is no indication of what Moore can do.
"Steve didn't really get to score as much as he should, because he got a lot better," Ratliffe said. "I think Steve would be the most improved player, if we had to vote that. ... He does all the little things, that's the type of player we need."
While the offense produced 88 points against what Haith said was the best team Missouri has played so far, the defense was stifling at times in the first half.
"I really was impressed with their half-court defense early on," Central Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. "They did a great job of forcing us to be really uncomfortable, and we were really uncomfortable for awhile. Our timing wasn't good, we couldn't set good screens."
Missouri's defense faltered in the second half, however, allowing 42 points.
"Maybe we got a little fatigued there in the second half, but we lost our pop," Haith said. "Our transition defense wasn't good, so we never got a chance to get back and set our defense and they were running the ball up on us."
Part of the reason for that, Haith said, was the absence of Bowers.
"We're not a shot-blocking team without Laurence Bowers, so we got to be able to put our chests on people and make good rotations," Haith said.
Monday's game was the last practice run for No. 25 Missouri without Bowers. The Tigers open the regular season Friday against Southeast Missouri State at 7 p.m. at Mizzou Arena.