The Missouri men's basketball team is gradually silencing its skeptics.
On a Saturday that featured a series of upsets among teams ranked in the top five, the Tigers emerged from the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas, with what can only be called a marquee win against No. 3 Baylor.
The victory showed No. 5 Missouri's ability to combat its height disadvantage with speed, good shooting and the post play of Ricardo Ratliffe. The Tigers sprinted around the court making almost 55 percent of their shots against a bigger, zone-oriented defense known for its ability to block shots.
“That’s what’s really tough about them is they can shoot it, and they can get in there," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "That’s why they’re a top-five team. Besides that K-State loss, nobody’s been able to figure them out.”
Missouri's guards combined for 58 points and opened holes in Baylor's defense that gave Ratliffe an opportunity for a monstrous game down low. Ratliffe scored a career-high 27 points and made 11-of-14 shots from the field.
“I just commend our guards," Ratliffe said. "Our guards did a great job staying cool and making good plays when we had the opportunity. All of those guys draw so much attention, so defenses forget about me sometimes."
How a team could forget about the 6-foot-8 forward almost defies imagination, since he leads Division I with a 77.2 field goal percentage and is on track to set a new NCAA record if he continues on his current pace.
Missouri also grabbed six more rebounds than Baylor, a pleasant surprise for a Tigers squad that regularly uses only two players taller than 6-6.
"We understand we are vertically challenged; we’re not a tall team," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "We do have quickness and guys who can run down loose balls. This team has learned to not watch the ball when shots go up. ... We know that if we aren’t in the ballpark from a rebounding standpoint, we are going to struggle.”
Even Missouri's two smallest players contributed. At 5-10, Phil Pressey had five rebounds, and 6-1 Michael Dixon collected four. The Tigers had 10 offensive rebounds in the first half and scored 14 second-chance points in the opening 20 minutes.
Baylor had only 11 free-throw attempts to Missouri's 31. The Tigers converted 22 of those points, many of which came in the final moments to seal the victory.
“The big thing is Missouri seemed to have all the answers, and our game plan was simple: We wanted the 31 free-throw attempts instead of 11," Drew said. "They got them and we didn’t."