Missouri men's basketball team braces for Braggin' Rights game

Friday, December 21, 2012 | 2:52 p.m. CST; updated 2:52 p.m. CST, Saturday, December 22, 2012

ST. LOUIS — The lights are making a buzzing noise.

It's easy to notice as the Missouri men's basketball team practices Friday on the court of the Scottrade Center. The noise mixes in with the sound of dribbling and squeaking sneakers.

Missouri and Illinois banners hang from the rafters about 30 yards apart. Between them hangs another banner that contains both a Tiger head and a block-I. But the converted hockey stadium's 22,000 blue seats are vacant.

It’s quiet, a day before the game.

Saturday, there will be a different type of buzz, the cheering of fans drowning out any background noise that the Scottrade Center has to offer.

“No (place) has this kind of atmosphere,” coach Frank Haith said.

But while the crowd will certainly be a factor Saturday, what happens on the court will ultimately determine the outcome of this season's Braggin' Rights game.

Despite starting off the season unranked, No. 10 Illinois is undefeated with a 12-0 record. The team is led by first-year head coach John Groce and two veteran guards, seniors Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson.

“They’re a talented group, a very experienced team,” Haith said at Friday's workout. “Their guards are outstanding. In the college game, if you’ve got great guards, you always got a chance. When you look at their team, their guards are as good as there are in the country.”

Paul is averaging 18.8 points per game this season, while Richardson is averaging 11.5.

“I mean, we have a game plan just like every other game,” Missouri guard Phil Pressey said, who is averaging 12.3 points and 5.8 assists per game. “But their guards really like to shoot the three-ball, so I feel like that’s going to be one of our mindsets going in to the game, is try to take away the 3-point shooting. I mean, they’ve got a good team right now. That’s why they’re undefeated.”

Paul scored 19 points, and Richardson 13, in last year's 78-74 loss to the Tigers.

While Illinois features two stellar guards, No. 12 Missouri (9-1) features two big men that are always a scoring threat. Forwards Alex Oriakhi (10.6 points and 8.6 rebounds) and Laurence Bowers (16.3 points and 6.4 rebounds) have handled the bulk of the scoring down low for the Tigers, while also contributing to the team's 46.1 rebounds a game average, the second best in the nation.

Still, the players reactions to the fans will come into play.

“There were definitely times (in past Braggin’ Right games) when the crowd would either help you out or Illinois out,” Bowers said, who has played in the game three times. “When a team goes on their run, that crowd is behind them. If you’re not a good enough team, you could kind of fall into the trap of surrendering to the crowd.”

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