Ratliffe key to Missouri men's basketball team's unique offense

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 | 9:17 p.m. CST; updated 4:12 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Missouri's Ricardo Ratliffe helps up teammate Marcus Denmon after he was knocked to the floor Monday during the Tigers' game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Mizzou Arena. Ratliffe had 17 points and 6 rebounds in the Tigers' 70-51 win over the Aggies.

COLUMBIA — Frank Haith calls it a "great marriage." 

It's how the Missouri men's basketball coach explains the efficiency his team's offense has with its four-guard lineup and Ricardo Ratliffe's low-post position. 

It takes the guards and Ratliffe to make a happy couple.

Ratliffe was named the Big 12 Conference Player of the Week and the Lute Olson National Player of the Week after averaging 22 points and seven rebounds in Missouri's wins over Texas A&M and Baylor last week. He is leading the nation with a 77.2 field-goal percentage.

But Ratliffe isn't claiming all the credit.

"I give the guards all the credit for finding me in open spots and making the game a lot easier for me," Ratliffe said. "Because if they don't give me those good passes, I'm not able to finish."

Likewise, when Ratliffe doesn't show up, Missouri hasn't been able to finish. 

"We don't have success if we don't have Ricardo's play," Haith said. "We need his production."

In Missouri's only loss this season against Kansas State, Ratliffe played only 14 minutes, finishing with one rebound, two points, three turnovers and four fouls. 

Haith said that Ratliffe's ability to maintain focus, even when his play slips early in the game, is what makes the difference. 

Against Baylor, Ratliffe was called for traveling and committed a turnover early in the game. But the forward rallied and was the top performer in the game with a career-high 27 points and eight rebounds. 

"I saw his growth in that game, he just came back and continued to play," Haith said. "He didn't lose his focus, and that's a huge improvement for Ricardo."

Ratliffe said it is difficult for him to trust people, but that he has come to believe in his team and Haith as a coach. 

"He trusts his teammates, he trusts what we're doing," Haith said. "I think that helps him handle those adverse situations." 

That trust proves crucial on the road, as maintaining focus becomes even harder and the team has only each other to rely on.

"Your team is all you got," senior Steve Moore said. "You've got like 15 people rooting for you and that's it. Anxiety kicks in."

Haith said he thinks winning on the road is one of the hardest things to do in college basketball. Heading into their game Wednesday at Oklahoma State, the Tigers are 2-1 in conference away games. 

Ratliffe said Haith preaches that the players focus each other, telling his team to, "go out there, stay together, stay poised and ignore the crowd. Play Missouri basketball."

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