Missouri basketball makes return to Sprint Center to face Hawaii

Thursday, November 14, 2013 | 10:04 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The last time Missouri basketball played at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, streamers were falling from the ceiling.

The Tigers turned their final game as a member of the Big 12 into a going-away party by defeating Baylor to claim the Big 12 Tournament Championship in March 2012.

Just a year and half later, Missouri is returning to the Sprint Center on Saturday to play Hawaii. This time, the Tigers feature a roster that knows almost nothing about seeing confetti fall from the ceiling, but interim coach Tim Fuller is excited for the nostalgia.

"I’m looking forward to it – for more than just the barbecue," he said. "I have great feelings about that place."

Fuller is the only member of Missouri – on both the active roster and coaching staff – who contributed to the win over Baylor 20 months ago. Head coach Frank Haith coached the Tigers during that game but will not be present Saturday as he continues to serve a five-game suspension. Guard Earnest Ross and forward Danny Feldmann were both with Missouri in 2011-12, but were forced to sit out the season because of NCAA transfer rules.

"It's just really exciting to play in there," Ross said. "It’s my first time playing in there, and I’m just trying to get a win."

Winning would mean extending Missouri’s win streak at the Sprint Center to six games in a row. And to do that the Tigers are preparing to face a Hawaii team that runs an offense focused on two talented post players, Christian Standhardinger and Isaac Fotu.

Standhardinger and Fotu are both listed at 6'8", and both are formidable on the low block. Standhardinger averaged 15.8 points per game last year, and Fotu is averaging close to a double-double for the Rainbow Warriors this season.

"They have very soft hands and are really skilled around the basket," Fuller said. "You don’t find 6'8", 6'9", 6'10", 7'0" guys who can run like they run and who can finish around the basket. They can honestly play for any team in the SEC.”

Conversely, Missouri has relied primarily on the play of its guards for offensive production so far this season. Ross, Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson took 79 percent of Missouri’s shots Tuesday against Southern Illinois and scored 59 of the Tigers' 72 points.

Ross, Brown and Clarkson have carried the load to support an inexperienced and diminished frontcourt. Power forward Tony Criswell has yet to play a minute this season due to a suspension for violating team rules. Criswell was originally suspended only for the season opener, but didn’t play Tuesday and still hasn’t been reinstated by the coaching staff. Fuller labeled his status for Saturday a "game-time decision."

Fuller is still pushing to develop what he calls his team’s "base defense," or in other words, the standard approach the Tigers will take toward guarding the basket. He knows the matchups against skilled big men will keep coming, most notably when Missouri plays UCLA (Tony Parker, former McDonald’s All-Americans Travis and David Wear), Mississippi State (Gavin Ware) and Kentucky.

 "We knew this day was coming," Fuller said. "This is just a first of many."

Supervising editor is Sasu Siegelbaum.

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