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Columbia Missourian

Matt Pressey's lockdown defense helps Missouri basketball

By Zach Miller
January 26, 2012 | 5:07 p.m. CST
Missouri guard Matt Pressey drives the ball during the game against Kennesaw State at Mizzou Arena on Thursday. Missouri won the game 104-67.

COLUMBIA — Matt Pressey isn't the best scorer on the Missouri men's basketball team. But he is the best at shutting down the other team's best scorers.

When people see No. 2 Missouri's frenetic defense, Pressey is rarely the first person they notice. They see Pressey's brother, Phil, poking the ball away from dribblers or diving for loose balls. Or they notice Michael Dixon bouncing around like a jitterbug as he keeps ball-handlers from going anywhere.

Saturday's game

Missouri (18-2, 5-2 Big 12)
vs. Texas Tech (7-12, 0-7 Big 12)

WHEN: 12:30 p.m.
WHERE:
Mizzou Arena
RADIO:
KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM; KCMQ 96.7 FM
TV:
KMIZ/Channel 17



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But Dixon and Phil Pressey aren't assigned to cover their opponent's best player. That's Matt Pressey's job.

"It's a big responsibility," Matt Pressey said. "A lot of guys wouldn't want to step up to it, but I take it as a challenge. I feel like if I do that I give my team the best chance to win." 

It's a responsibility that Missouri coach Frank Haith said he knew Matt Pressey could handle from "day one."

"I don't think we've wavered from that," Haith said. "He's relished in that role."

Matt Pressey said he proved to coaches he could fill that role by covering Marcus Denmon, Missouri's best scorer, in practice.

When he isn't noticed during games, its because he's doing his best defense away from the ball. In Missouri's loss to Oklahoma State on Wednesday, Matt Pressey stuck to Cowboys senior Keiton Page or redshirt freshman Brian Williams, constantly working to deny them the ball. Page and Williams were forced to cut hard and run around screens just to get away from Matt Pressey and get open.

"It really takes a lot of preparation and I feel like its more determination and effort than anything," Matt Pressey said. "To not let a guy score on you, man, that's tough."

Haith called his defense this season "outstanding."

"He had to guard (6-foot-9-inch Baylor forward) Quincy Miller the other day, he gave up like seven inches," Haith said. "That tells you his value to our team. Matt's not afraid to defend the other team's best players. Having that guy on your team, that's a tremendous asset."

Matt Pressey averages a little more than one steal per game, fifth best on a team that ranks seventh in the country in steals with 9.3 per game.

"He's a big part of our unit," Kim English said. "He anticipates really well. He helps us all out as a whole." 

After Wednesday's loss, Missouri dropped to 18-2 on the season. It is the Tigers' best start since the 1993-94 season when they started 25-2.

Defense has been a big part of the team's success, but the Tigers are also scoring 83 points per game.

English stressed that Matt Pressey is not only a big part of the Tigers' defense, but also a big part of their offense.

"He's a really good passer, attacks well in transition, frees up Ricardo (Ratliffe)," English said. "He does a lot of things."

Matt Pressey averages 8.1 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game and two assists per game. Haith said that his shot selection has improved, and that he has benefited from playing in an offense where the ball moves a lot.

He rarely turns the ball over, and is one of the reasons that Missouri has a 1.5 assist-turnover ratio, the second best mark of any team in the nation.

Matt Pressey and Missouri face Texas Tech at 12:30 on Saturday at Mizzou Arena.