Missouri men's basketball team looking to keep momentum

Friday, March 8, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Auburn's Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (0) blocks a shot by Tennessee's Jordan McRae (52) during a game Wednesday.

COLUMBIA — A three-game winning streak, a recent win over a top-five team, and a whole lot of confidence.

The Missouri men’s basketball team is getting hot, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Missouri (22-8, 11-6 in Southeastern Conference) will play its final game of the regular season Saturday in Tennessee, the last step before the SEC tournament. The Tigers are third in the conference standings, and there is a huge incentive if Missouri is able to hold on to their top-four seeding.

“I do know this. If we win (on Saturday), we probably will get a double-bye (in the SEC tournament),” coach Frank Haith said in a teleconference Thursday.

The SEC tournament begins March 13 in Nashville, Tenn., and with one more Missouri win, the Tigers won’t be playing until March 15.

Early on this season, the Tigers struggled on the road, losing to UCLA, Ole Miss, Florida, LSU and Texas A&M. But after recent blowout wins at Mississippi State and South Carolina, along with two close losses to Arkansas and Kentucky, it looks as if the road woes that plagued Missouri are now in the past.

The Tigers are shooting 51.5 percent from the field in their past four road matches, a huge confidence booster with tournament games being played at neutral locations.

But winning in Tennessee will be far from easy. The Volunteers (18-11, 10-7 in SEC) have already beaten Kentucky and Florida when having a home court advantage, and need a win against Missouri to keep their tournament hopes alive.

Tennessee features junior guard Jordan McRae, who leads the team in scoring with 16.2 points per game, and Jarnell Stokes, who is nearly averaging a double-double with 12.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.

The Tigers will hope to continue their winning steak, but most importantly, continue to maintain their momentum heading in to the most important part of their season: March.

“I do think that there are so many teams that really get hot and do some damage in March,” Haith said. “I think we got a team that could do that too... It's just getting hot at the right time."

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