One of Gonzaga’s best players may not be at 100 percent against Missouri today, but considering the level the Bulldogs have been playing at, that probably won’t be enough to slow them down.
A little more than a week after falling six points short of upsetting No. 1 Illinois, on Dec. 22, Missouri (6-5) will have another chance to play giant-killer as the Tigers host a hobbled Ronny Turiaf and No. 12 Gonzaga (10-1) tonight at 7 in Mizzou Arena.
Gonzaga, traditionally an underrated team that overachieves in the NCAA tournament, has been no stranger to upsets this season. It just tends to be on the winning end.
Gonzaga is 2-1 against top-5 teams. The Bulldogs beat then-No. 3 Georgia Tech 85-73 on Dec. 18, and defeated No. 3 Oklahoma State 78-75 on Tuesday. Gonzaga lost to Illinois 89-72 on Nov. 27.
Gonzaga also handed then-No. 16 Washington its first loss of the season, on Dec. 1.
“I don’t think there’s necessarily more pressure on us,” said Turiaf, a senior forward.“We know there’s greater expectations, but we just want to keep getting better with every game.”
Turiaf leads the Bulldogs in scoring this season with 19.1 points per game. He had a career-high 40 against Idaho on Nov. 24. He also averages 9.1 rebounds.
A recurring right ankle sprain has slowed Turiaf in his past few contests. He was first injured against Washington State on Dec. 7.
Stopping Turiaf will be a key for the Tigers.
“They are a strong team,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “They are a team with a lot of offensive weapons, and we have to keep progressing defensively to give ourselves an opportunity in that game.”
A combination of the ankle injury and foul trouble limited Turiaf against Oklahoma State. He had 10 points in 18 minutes.
Junior forward J.P. Batista came off the bench and contributed 20 points in Turiaf’s stead. Sophomore forward Adam Morrison added 19.
“That’s just how this team is,” Turiaf said. “We can go deep. We have a lot of talented guys that can do it for us.”
Gonzaga is known for its deep bench. Seven Bulldogs play more than 20 minutes per game and four score more than 11 per game.
That versatility could pose a problem for Missouri, but the Tigers’ defense has been improving.
The Tigers held Illinois to its lowest point total this season in Missouri’s 70-64 loss last week.
“It’s all going to start on the defensive end,” Snyder said. “That’s the right way to play, and I really believe if you work hard on defense and play the right way then the basketball gods will reward you for it.”