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Columbia Missourian

Missouri's Alex Oriakhi knows what it takes to win championship

By Brendan Meyer
March 19, 2013 | 7:00 p.m. CDT
Missouri's Alex Oriakhi dunks the ball against Texas A&M forward Kourtney Roberson during a game at the Southeastern Conference tournament March 14 in Nashville, Tenn.

COLUMBIA — Three, and that’s it.

It’s the number of players Missouri has on its roster that have NCAA Tournament experience. 

Thursday's NCAA Tournament opener

No. 8 seed Colorado State (25-8)
vs. No. 9 seed Missouri (23-10)

WHEN: 8:20 p.m.
WHERE: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 & 103.1 FM

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Phil Pressey has never made it past the first round, scoring 20 points in last year’s upset loss against Norfolk State, and seven points in Missouri’s loss to Cincinnati his freshman year. 

Laurence Bowers has played in three tournaments, making it as far as the Elite Eight in 2009, recording a steal in his two minutes of play in the loss to UConn.

And Alex Oriakhi, well, he’s won a national championship.

The transfer from UConn was an integral part of the No. 3-seeded Huskies, who beat Butler in the national championship game in 2011. Oriakhi averaged 7.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in the six tournament wins. 

But Oriakhi is far from the same player he was in 2011. He has more experience, a better offensive game, and most importantly …

“More confidence,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said on Sunday. “You hear him talk about his confidence, that’s all it is with Alex. He has ability. He’s a big strong kid, has good hands, can finish around the basket, and he’s making free throws.”

Oriakhi is averaging a career-high 11.1 points per game to go along with 8.6 rebounds this season. He led the Tigers in scoring in both of their games in Nashville, Tenn., during the Southeastern Conference tournament, pairing 13 points with 10 rebounds in the win against Texas A&M, and 16 points with nine rebounds in the loss against Ole Miss. 

“He’s just bought in,” Haith said. “I can say those things, but just look at his numbers. They speak for themselves. He’s been remarkable. He’s playing with such high energy, and controlled high energy. And I think he’s really, from a leadership standpoint, accepting that role.”

Aside from being a senior leader on the team, Oriakhi is the guy to talk to heading into Thursday, when No. 9-seeded Missouri faces No. 8-seeded Colorado State in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament in Lexington, Ky. 

“I just tell them (my teammates), if you're fortunate enough to get past the first one (game), the rest of them are going to be very hard,” Oriakhi said on Sunday. “You're going to play extremely talented, extremely good teams. Take it one game at a time, one possession at a time. Don’t think too far ahead, because I wouldn't count anybody out.”

Some college basketball experts have Missouri beating Colorado State and losing two days later in the next round to No. 1-seeded Louisville, but even the so-called experts can’t predict what happens in the NCAA Tournament.

It’s called March Madness for a reason.

From here on out, Oriakhi’s next game could be his final in a college basketball uniform, and he’s looking to add another ring.

“I will leave it all out on the floor, and play as hard as I can and motivate my teammates as well and take it from there,” Oriakhi said.

“Anything can happen.”