Columbia, Mo. Awful on the road, Missouri’s basketball team has been awesome at home this season.
“I think that’s true for the most part with most teams across America. It’s a natural phenomenon,” Kansas University coach Bill Self said with a shrug, referring to squads struggling in enemy gyms and excelling in their own.
“I don’t know details. I don’t know their team, but usually with us we are much more active at home than away from home from things like the energy of the crowd. That’s why it’s called homecourt advantage. I’m sure they’ll be turned up big-time for us.”
The Tigers (22-8, 8-7 Big 12), who play host to rival KU (28-2, 13-2) at 11 a.m. today, are a perfect 17-0 in Mizzou Arena — 7-0 in Big 12 games.
On the road, MU is 2-7 overall and 1-7 in the league. Lending hope to MU fans regarding the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers are 3-1 on neutral courts.
“People take pride in protecting their home turf. That basically sums it up,” MU junior center Steve Moore told the Columbia Missourian, asked about the home/road discrepancy.
“The ambiance is just a different feel,” MU junior guard Kim English theorized to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “You can’t compare scores. You can’t compare games. It's just a different beast on the road. You just have to come prepared from the get-go.”
MU coach Mike Anderson has tried to sidestep the issue.
“I just talk about us getting better,” Anderson said.
His Tigers actually played one of their best road games in Lawrence this season. KU outlasted MU, 103-86, in a game the Jayhawks led, 46-42, at the break.
“I’d be shocked if there were that many points scored (today) — shocked,” Self said. “But it’ll be a fast game. They want to play fast. We want to play fast. It can be misleading, a misnomer because there are so many more possessions (in an up-tempo contest). More possessions usually produce more points. We have to do a better job defensively. We allowed it to be a H-O-R-S-E contest the first half against them, and of course they stepped up and made shots.”
KU’s Marcus Morris scored a team-leading 22 points in the first meeting. Mario Little had 17 points off 7-of-9 shooting, while Markieff Morris, Tyshawn Taylor and Travis Releford had 16, 13 and 10, respectively. Lawrence Bowers scored 19 to lead Mizzou, followed by Phil Pressey (17) and Ricardo Ratliffe (12).
“I think it’s something we will focus on defending their motion,” KU junior guard Taylor said. “They do a lot of backcutting and fade screens, single down. We’ll practice hard. I think we’ll be ready.”
On the intangible side, the Jayhawks realize they can wrap up an undisputed Big 12 title with a victory. If KU loses and Texas beats Baylor, the Jayhawks share the league title with UT.
“I think it’s both,” Taylor said of the motivation being winning league outright and beating a rival. “It’s definitely a rivalry. We know they will play us tough there. They are undefeated at home. The last time we played a rival on the road, it wasn’t too good (84-68 loss to Kansas State on Feb. 14). We’ve got to be better than we were at K-State. I think we know that.
“I think we’ll be ready for their pressure, and the atmosphere will be crazy. We have to be ready to respond,” Taylor added.
Self noted: “We’ve only played one road game since K-State — Oklahoma,” he said of last Saturday’s 82-70 victory. “It was a game we made shots early. We didn’t feel the pressure in that game. We are going to feel some pressure (today).”
That’s full-court pressure.
KU suffered just 12 turnovers against an MU team that didn’t press much in Lawrence. Last year, KU suffered 19 turnovers in a 77-56 victory in Columbia. At home, the Tigers are holding opponents to 39 percent shooting and 29 percent from three-point range, while forcing 21 turnovers per contest. MU ranks third in the country at 9.7 steals a game.
“When we’re at home, the crowd kind of feeds off our energy, and we kind of do the same off theirs,” said MU’s Marcus Denmon, a 6-3 junior guard out of Kansas City (Mo.) Hogan Prep. “It (Mizzou Arena) is a tough place to play in, and that kind of helps us out.”
The Jayhawks are 13-3 overall versus Mizzou in the Self era. KU owns a 4-3 mark in Columbia, where, as Marcus Morris indicated, the pressing Tigers resemble “gnats that won’t get out of your kitchen when you leave dishes in there a long time.”
“One thing you want to do,” Self said, “is take advantage of their aggressiveness, if you can. Like a lot of teams out there, if you are passive against them, their pressure becomes greater. We need to attack their pressure. That’s not any hidden secret at all. Sometimes we’ve had success doing that, and sometimes we have not at all.
“They are a team that you can’t get hung up on turning it over once or twice in a row; when you put that much pressure on people, you will turn it over some. We have to make sure we limit our turnovers and take care of the basketball, be in attack mode. Then when we do screw up, our mistakes don’t lead to easy baskets.”
KU, by the way, is 8-1 on the road this season, 6-1 in enemy gyms in league action.
“It’s fun, a different kind of adrenaline rush,” KU sophomore Elijah Johnson said of the road. “Pride is something we have. We’ll see what happens.”