COLUMBIA — The Missouri men’s basketball team hosts No. 20 Arizona on Saturday, and head coach Kim Anderson is already thankful for one thing about the matchup: It’s at home.
“I’m looking forward to them traveling here instead of us traveling there,” Anderson said at a news conference Thursday. Last season, the trip to Arizona took “forever,” thanks to an eight-hour layover in Lubbock, Texas, Anderson said. The team had to stay at the airport and practice at an airplane hangar next door.
The Wildcats are coming off a 79-57 win over the University of California-Irvine on Tuesday. Missouri hopes that a win against a ranked program like Arizona would do great things for attendance.
Attendance at the past few home games has been sparse, but Anderson thinks it's a trend across the country at this point in the season, with the exception of perennial powerhouse programs.
With an 11 a.m. tipoff, Anderson knows that an earlier game might be difficult to make, but he hopes people will make it out anyway. He stressed that the game will probably be over by 1 p.m., which will allow people to have the rest of the day to do whatever they like.
“You’ve got the whole day ahead of you,” Anderson said. “If you want to go hunting, fishing, whatever you want to do, shopping, you’ve got plenty of time to do that.”
A few of the players decided to take the attendance matter into their own hands Wednesday. Sophomore guard Terrence Phillips and freshman forward Willie Jackson bought a number of tickets for the game against Arizona and gave them to students on campus if they answered trivia questions. Sophomore forward Kevin Puryear was there for moral support.
“I know when we go on the road and we see these student sections, it’s a hostile environment,” Phillips said. “I ask for two hours out of their (Missouri students) day to come out and support us.”
Puryear added his sales pitch, telling students it will be nice to watch some basketball as a break from studying for finals.
The game against Arizona will be Missouri's first since defeating Miami University (Ohio) 81-55 on Tuesday. Puryear led all players with 19 points and also added eight rebounds.
“When you see the ball go through the basket, you start feeling better about yourself and the people around you,” Anderson said about Puryear’s performance Tuesday. “I was happy to see the whole group bounce out of something of a slump and hopefully gain some confidence.”
Arizona is led by freshmen Lauri Markkanen, who is averaging 17.8 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game. The 7-foot, 230-pound freshman hails from Jyvaskyla, Finland, and is projected by DraftExpress to go eighth in the 2017 NBA draft .
There is no shortage of 7-foot Europeans on this Arizona team. Markkanen is joined by junior center Dusan Ristic, who is averaging 9.7 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game. The 7-foot, 245-pound Ristic is from Novi Sad, Serbia.
“The more video I watch, the more impressed I am with what they (Markkanen and Ristic) do,” Anderson said.
Anderson said the two towering Europeans are great rebounders and give Arizona the ability to get multiple offensive possessions on one trip down the floor.
“We have to play this game with a great deal of intensity,” Anderson said. “We can’t waste a lot of possessions.”
Supervising editor is Jaime Dunaway.