ATLANTA — The last time a Missouri basketball team beat the No. 1 ranked team in the country, President Bill Clinton had yet to be implicated in the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal and a re-release of the original "Star Wars" was the highest-grossing film at the box office.
On Feb. 4, 1997, an unranked Missouri team defeated No. 1 Kansas 96-94 in double overtime at Hearnes Center. A Corey Tate jumper with five seconds remaining put the Tigers ahead for good against a rival Jayhawk squad led by future NBA star Paul Pierce.
1-seed Florida (29-2, 18-0 SEC) vs. 8-seed Missouri (22-10, 9-9)
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
When: Noon Friday
Radio: Tiger Radio Network
The Gators won the teams' lone regular-season meeting 68-58 on Feb. 4 in Gainesville, Fla.
Since that night more than 17 years ago, Missouri has lost four consecutive games against No. 1 teams. The Tigers will have the program’s first chance since a Dec. 22, 2004, game against Illinois to snap that streak when they play No. 1 Florida at noon Friday in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament in the Georgia Dome.
“They had a real good regular season, but it’s postseason now,” Missouri guard Jabari Brown said of the Gators, who went 18-0 in SEC regular-season play. “It’s a new season, and we’re looking forward to playing them.”
Missouri’s 91-83 double-overtime win against Texas A&M on Thursday set up this rematch with the Gators (29-2). Florida won the lone regular-season meeting, a 68-58 early February game in Gainesville, Fla.
It was the 14th of 23 consecutive victories for the Gators, who haven’t lost since Dec. 2.
Coach Billy Donovan’s squad features four seniors in the starting lineup, including Casey Prather, SEC player of the year Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Patric Young. That core is the biggest reason for the Gators’ success, Missouri center Ryan Rosburg said.
“All five guys contribute and have been around each other for so long," he said. "They know exactly what each is bringing."
Prather, a finalist for the Wooden Award, which is awarded to the nation’s best player, leads the Gators with 14.6 points per game. Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II and Wilbekin average 12.9 each, while Yeguete and Young provide defensive prowess in the post and combine for 11.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.
Missouri (22-10) led 28-25 at halftime and trailed by just three with seven minutes remaining in the first matchup between the two teams, which the Tigers said gives them an idea of how to approach this game.
“We’re the only team in the country that has this opportunity tomorrow," Missouri coach Frank Haith said Thursday. "We got to look forward to it.”
No team in the country can do more for its postseason resume Friday than Missouri.
A loss punches Missouri’s ticket to the NIT. A win not only keeps the Tigers' NCAA Tournament hopes alive, but it also significantly improves the Tigers’ positioning on the bubble.
Prior to Thursday’s slate of games, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi had Missouri pegged as the second team among the “next four out” of the tournament, six spots away from an at-large bid. But Thursday's games moved the Tigers up.
Arkansas, which Lunardi had listed as the last team in the tournament with an at-large bid, lost to South Carolina. California, Lunardi’s first team out of an at-large bid, had its resume ruined in an upset loss to Colorado.
A win Friday is a must for Missouri to preserve its still-slim chances of securing an at-large bid. They don’t anticipate fatigue from playing double overtime being an issue, even though the Gators haven’t played a game since Saturday.
“We’re 20-, 21-year-old guys, in the best shape of our lives,” Rosburg said. “Playing a game like that tomorrow, you’re going to be so excited you won’t worry about that at all.”
Added Haith: “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. We got to get them back, get some fluids in them and get some food in them and just go rock 'n' roll."
Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.