Missouri men's basketball one of only four unbeatens

Thursday, December 29, 2011 | 7:05 p.m. CST; updated 9:32 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 29, 2011

COLUMBIA — The Missouri men's basketball team is in elite company as one of four undefeated teams left in Division I college basketball, two of which come from the Big 12 Conference.

No. 1 Syracuse (14-0), No. 6 Baylor (13-0) and No. 20 Murray State (13-0) join No. 8 Missouri in the list of unbeatens after two Top 15 teams faltered Wednesday night — No. 4 Louisville lost to Georgetown 71-68 to fall to 12-1, and Indiana lost to Michigan State 80-65 to fall to 12-1.

Coach Frank Haith has led Missouri to a 12-0 record for the first time since 1982, and the Tigers are coming off a 78-74 victory against Illinois in the annual Braggin' Rights game on Dec. 22 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Missouri's four-point win against Illinois was the closest margin of victory for the Tigers this season. Before that win, Missouri's closest game was a 10-point victory against Villanova on Dec. 6.

If the Tigers hope to stay undefeated, though, they will have to minimize the lapses they suffered in the Braggin' Rights game. Missouri blew an 11-point lead after the first half of a game that featured nine lead changes. 

Much of that squandered lead was because of an Illinois team that elevated its offense in the second half, but Haith said his team lost focus at times, which allowed the Illini to climb back into the game.

"I thought we got a little bit out of character and that allowed Illinois to get back in the game, and that's understanding time and situation," Haith said after the game.

But the Braggin' Rights game was also the first test that proved this brand of Tigers can handle adversity, a theme that could become common for Missouri as they prepare to head into their last nonconference game on the road against Old Dominion on Friday. 

Friday's contest marks the first true away game for the Tigers, who have played only one game outside of the state of Missouri when they traveled to to play Villanova at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Old Dominion boasts good size with 6-foot-9 senior forward Chris Cooper averaging 10.8 points a game. Six-foot-5 senior guard Kent Bazemore leads the Monarchs (6-6) in scoring at 13.2 points per game.

"We got a huge ball game on the road at Old Dominion, a Colonial (Athletic Association team)," Haith said. "We got a tremendous challenge ahead of us, so we're going to do our job of getting them ready, getting them prepared, and the environment we're gonna be facing in Norfolk on Dec. 30. Then we go into Big 12 play, so there's no time to relax for this team."

Missouri opens conference play against Oklahoma on Jan. 3 at Mizzou Arena.

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