All the coaches agree. This Big 12 Conference season is going to be tough.
Missouri begins Big 12 Conference play against No. 11 Kansas State at 7 p.m., today at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan.
The Tigers (9-2) are on a four-game winning streak and finished their non-conference schedule Sunday with a 65-62 win at St. Louis University.
Kansas State (9-2) is 5-0 at home and has won the past four meetings against Missouri.
“We’ve got the toughest conference in the country,” Tigers coach Cindy Stein said. “Every game is tough.
“I’ve heard all the coaches comment that from top to bottom this is probably the strongest it’s ever been.”
The Big 12 has six teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 released Monday. No. 2 Texas Tech is 14-0 and No. 3 Texas is 12-1. Texas Tech and Duke each received 20 first-place votes in the poll. Duke (10-1) went from the No. 4 spot to the No. 1 spot because the Blue Devils have 1,104 total points to Texas Tech’s 1,091. Texas, who received six first-place votes, defeated Duke 85-77 on Nov. 16.
No. 11 Kansas State, No. 14 Colorado, No. 15 Oklahoma and No. 24 Baylor are the other ranked Big 12 teams.
Missouri finished tied for fifth with Oklahoma in the Big 12 last season with a record of 9-7. In preseason coaches and media polls the Tigers were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12.
“You’ve got to make sure you are playing at a high level and play consistently throughout this conference schedule,” Stein said.
Stein said Missouri’s 9-2 nonconference record this season reflects a change in the team from last season. Missouri went 6-5 in non-conference games last year.
“This year it’s a kind of different atmosphere,” Stein said. “Our kids are really excited for every game.
“Our chemistry is very good, our bench play has been really good and obviously we’ve had some very solid performances from our seniors. Our momentum is so much better right now than it was last year. I feel like we are going into the conference a lot more confident.”
Senior forwards Evan Unrau, who averages 19 points 9.3 rebounds, and Stretch James, who averages 13.8 points and 7 rebounds, lead the Tigers.
“I look at those two as a great one-two punch,” Wildcats coach Deb Patterson said. “With the shooting ability of (Tracy) Lozier and the great play they are getting now out of (LaToya) Bond. It’s a team that can hit you inside and out.”
Kansas State is on a seven-game winning streak behind senior Nicole Ohlde, a 6-foot-5 forward/center who is averaging 14.4 points and 6.4 rebounds. As a freshman, she led the Wildcats with 28 points in Missouri’s win against the Wildcats on Feb 7, 2001. Lozier, a 5-foot-10 senior guard who is scoring 9.6 points per game, said Missouri can’t get focused on the Wildcat’s ranking.
“They are a great team, but it’s nothing we should be scared about,” Lozier said. “They are definitely a beatable team. If we play hard and play our style of ball then I think we will be fine.”