Braggin' Rights atmosphere new to many on Missouri men's basketball team

Friday, December 21, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST
The seats of the Scottrade Center in St. Louis stand divided at last year's Braggin' Rights game. Missouri Tigers fans filled one side of the arena, with Fighting Illini supporters on the other side.

COLUMBIA— Mizzou Arena was as loud as ever, and nobody was there.

There was no student section. No hecklers. No band. No fans. The No. 12 Missouri men's basketball team practiced on its own Wednesday to a screaming crowd of empty stands.

The Tigers (9-1) are gearing up for their highly anticipated Braggin’ Rights game against No. 10 Illinois (12-0) on Saturday in St. Louis and want to make sure that they are ready in every way.

Game plan? Check. Preparation? Check. Simulating the atmosphere by playing extremely loud crowd noise over the loudspeakers while practicing? Check.

“We could barely hear ourselves talk,” freshman forward Stefan Jankovic said.

The Braggin’ Rights game has been known to bring an atmosphere that is unlike most other college basketball contests. With the game played at a neutral site at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, there will be constant cheering.

“It is a different atmosphere,” coach Frank Haith said. “I’ve never been in an atmosphere like that, where you’ve got a neutral court setting. They’ve (the Tigers) been in tough arenas, but being in a place where it’s 50/50, and every basket scored there’s cheering? No, I don’t know if anybody’s been in that. That’s the uniqueness about this event.”

Phil Pressey and Laurence Bowers are the only members of this year's team who have played in this annual game. Oddly enough, they did not play together.

Bowers missed the game last season because of an injury, but he has played in the game three times, scoring a combined 18 points. Pressey missed the game his freshman year also because of an injury.

Last year, Missouri won 78-74, the game coming down to the final minutes with a crowd of 22,087 fans screaming at every play.

Pressey had 18 points and five assists in the game.

“I watched it on TV last year, and it looked like a crazy exciting game that fans really are supportive about,” guard Earnest Ross said. “Just coming here last year, seeing that made me look forward to an actual game to play in this year. I’ll be very hyped up and excited to play.”

There’s no way to really prepare for the atmosphere at a game like this, especially when most of the basketball team has never experienced anything like it before.

“I’ve heard all the guys last year and previous years talk about the intensity of the game and how big the game is,” guard Keion Bell said. “The guys just talked about the electricity within the building and how big of an atmosphere it is. I’m just looking forward to playing.”

Will Missouri push its winning streak against Illinois to four? Will the Tigers upset the undefeated Fighting Illini? While there are no guarantees in Saturday’s matchup, there is one thing to be sure of.

Student section, hecklers, band and fans will all be there. And they will be loud.

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