KANSAS CITY — The silence that filled Kemper Arena during Nebraska’s hour-long practice didn’t last when the Missouri men’s basketball team took to the floor at noon.
The Tigers, who were greeted by the applause and cheers of about 100 fans, ran an interactive and energetic hour-long practice Wednesday, during which there was constant talking between the players and coaches.
For the hour prior to Missouri’s practice, the Cornhuskers ran an intense practice with little talking. A contemplative Barry Collier, Nebraska’s coach, stood near half court for most of the practice.
Although Wednesday’s open practices may have been completely different, not much else differentiates No. 8 Missouri (15-15) and No. 9 Nebraska (14-13) who play at 11:30 a.m. today in the first round of the Big 12 Conference tournament.
Both teams, who hope to advance and play No. 1 Oklahoma at 11:30 a.m. Friday, are also trying to solidify postseason ambitions. Invitations to the NIT are only given to teams with .500 records or better.
“We are aware that our postseason opportunities hinge on what we do here, and we are going to try and play as long as we can,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said.
If possible, Missouri would like to repeat the run it had in the 2002-2003 tournament when the Tigers won three games in a row before losing to Oklahoma in the championship game. No team has won four straight games in the Big 12 Tournament.
Missouri’s one advantage over Nebraska might be its recent history in the Big 12 tournament. The Tigers are 7-0 in first-round games, while the Cornhuskers have lost their past five first-round contests.
Nebraska does have the added motivation of revenge, having lost to Missouri twice this season, once in January and once in February.
“This is probably going to be the toughest game that we’re going to play,” Missouri guard Jimmy McKinney said. “They’re the same as us, and it’s hard to beat a team three times. They had a hard regular season, just like we had a tough regular season, and we both just want to continue to play.”
Collier said the Cornhuskers’ success will be determined on the defensive end. Missouri’s Linas Kleiza scored 31 points in the first meeting and a couple of lapses late in Lincoln, Neb. allowed Missouri to win its first road game of the season.
“We struggled against them because we had some major let downs at critical points of the game both defensively and offensively,” Nebraska’s Jason Dourisseau said.
Meanwhile, Missouri is looking to avoid a lapse coming off the big win it had Sunday against Kansas.
“We’ve got to stay focused because we lose our concentration after big wins,” Kleiza said. “I think that was the story of our season: play good, get a good win and then go somewhere else and we’re not the same team. We’ve just got to be the Missouri team we were (Sunday) for the rest of the year.”
McKinney said the Tigers are up for the challenge.
“We can put two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, whatever it takes, we don’t have no choice but to put back to back strong games together,” McKinney said.