Missouri men's basketball seeks 'Braggin' Rights' against Illinois

Friday, December 20, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Ryan Rosburg will need to be more creative when he makes his Christmas list this year.

Growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis, Rosburg annually asked for tickets to the Braggin’ Rights Game. His father, Paul Rosburg, usually obliged, taking Ryan or his older brother, Andy, to the game with courtside seats.

At 4:30 p.m. Saturday in St. Louis' Scottrade Center, Andy Rosburg will join his father in the crowd, watching as Ryan and his No. 23 Missouri Tigers teammates take on Illinois in the schools’ annual rivalry game.  

“It’s definitely special going home, being around so many familiar faces,” Ryan Rosburg said. “I’ve been going to this game since I can remember … so it’s definitely special to me. Just the atmosphere, it’ll be cool to go home.

“Last year, walking out and seeing everything, I was kind of taken aback. It was a glimpse back in time to remember watching guys do the same thing. Now that my role’s kind of expanded, I think it’s more enjoyable.”

Having been relegated to the bench during last year’s matchup, Rosburg, Missouri’s starting center, will playing in this game for this first time Saturday. He isn’t the only one. Jabari Brown, Tony Criswell and Earnest Ross are the only Tigers to have played in the Braggin’ Rights Game. Only three Fighting Illini — Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand and Nnanna Egwu — have experienced the matchup.

Rosburg doesn’t think Missouri’s newcomers have “any idea” of what to expect Saturday night. He’s spent the week trying to explain to them that the crowd of 22,000 is split down the middle. Half black and gold, half blue and orange. Chants of M-I-Z Z-O-U are constantly countered with chants of I-L-L I-N-I. Half of the arena erupts with each basket.

“I don’t think you can really prepare for that, and I think they’re going to be shocked when they get there,” Rosburg said.

Freshman Wes Clark is one of three Tigers regulars who will experience his first Braggin’ Rights Game. The advice he’s gotten from the few Tigers who have been there before?

“To just bring your best, man,” Clark said. “This is a top-scale game. This is where the big boys come out.”

“Last year," Missouri coach Frank Haith said, "we only had two guys that had played in the game with Phil (Pressey) and Laurence (Bowers). I think we prepare like we’ve prepared all year.

“They’re going to hear enough from the guys that have played in it about what to expect," said Haith, who added that his team was preparing "for what to expect from Illinois as a basketball team.”

Haith expects to face a team similar to his own. The Fighting Illini are a perimeter-oriented team, much like the Tigers. Haith singled out Abrams and Bertrand as two guys that have given Missouri trouble in the past. Rayvonte Rice, Illinois’ leading scorer with 17.7 points per game, was coached by current Missouri assistant Mark Phelps for two seasons at Drake.

“The thing that really strikes me when I watch this team on tape is how hard they play,” Haith said. “I watched their Oregon game, and they really, really compete, so I anticipate that with John's (Illinois coach John Groce) teams. They’re always going to be very competitive, physical, hard-nosed-type teams.”

Missouri has won four consecutive games against Illinois. A win Saturday would be the first time the Tigers had ever won five in a row in the series. Missouri’s current streak follows a nine-game win streak for Illinois from 2000 to 2008.

A win Saturday also would bolster the team’s résumé come March.

“I know our guys want to go into this game understanding that it’s important for us to play well, because it’s a chance for us to play a team RPI-wise and strength of schedule and build your résumé and hope you get into the postseason,” Haith said.

“This is a statement game for us, I would say,” Earnest Ross said. “It means a lot, not only to us, but the Mizzou community, so just going out and showing what we can do on the basketball court, not only for the fans, but for our record as well.”

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