By The Associated Press
Missouri forward Ricardo Ratliffe (10). (Photo by Nick Gerhardt)
ST. LOUIS—Frank Haith said it best the day Missouri rose to No. 2. No one big victory would define the team, nor one tough loss.
The coach could not have anticipated those words to be tested so soon with one of the school’s most impressive victories in recent seasons followed by an excruciating setback.
The Tigers (18-2, 5-2 Big 12) got two first-place votes in this week’s poll, coming off their triumph at then-second ranked Baylor. They stumbled just four days later at mediocre Oklahoma State, losing 79-72 on Wednesday night.
Missouri has been a juggernaut at home, where players can shake off some of the bad taste on Saturday against struggling Texas Tech (7-12, 0-7). And where coaches can use the loss as a motivational tool during a breakout season that nobody anticipated.
Earlier in the week, Haith wanted to make sure players avoided getting “caught up in the hoopla” of the school’s highest ranking since being No. 2 in 2001-02 and highest this late in the season since 1989-90.
It definitely won’t be so much of a tough sell now.
“It’s our coaches job is to continue educate your guys. It’s a classroom. It’s our time to teach,” Haith said. “As well as handling adversity, you have to be able to handle the other stuff, too.”
The victory at Baylor was the school’s first over a top 5 team since 1994. Missouri had been 75-40 all-time against Oklahoma State before fading late. The Tigers shot just 40 percent after entering the game second-best in the nation at 51 percent. They were just 4 for 19 from 3-point range and no one was really clicking.
Especially at the Mizzou Arena, Haith has been able to hone the thin seven-man rotation he inherited from run-and-gun Mike Anderson into a cohesive, efficient machine that has been able to grind down teams with much deeper benches. There’s a lot of balance, with six players leading the team in scoring the last nine games.
Missouri is 11-0 at home with an average margin of 27 points, including blowouts over Texas and Texas A&M in conference play.
Forward Ricardo Ratliffe, the lone big man in a four-guard starting lineup, is threatening the NCAA single-season record for field goal accuracy. He’s at 75.4 percent after a season-high seven misses in 17 attempts at Oklahoma State, is coming off a double-double and has scored 52 points the last two games.
Virtually all his baskets have come from just a few feet away from the rim. Steve Johnson of Oregon State set the NCAA standard at 74.6 percent in 1980-81 and Jeff Warren holds the school record at 67.6 percent in 1990-91.
Ratliffe has been on a tear since getting just two points and one rebound in 14 minutes at Kansas State.
Sophomore point guard Phil Pressey, son of former NBA player Paul Pressey, has no regrets about staying put after one of his dad’s closest friends left for Arkansas. One good reason: older brother Matt Pressey is a senior starter and perhaps the best defender.
“Yeah, I came to play for coach Anderson but when coach Haith got here, we had a great bond from day one,” Pressey said. “And he put his trust in me. Whenever somebody does that, I put my trust in them.”
Phil Pressey leads the Big 12 in assists and is on pace to break Anthony Peeler’s school record of 179 set in 1989-90. Haith guessed Pressey was perhaps Anderson’s highest-rated recruit.
“I think the biggest thing for Phil is how soon was he going to develop his point guard instincts in terms of being solid all the time,” Haith said. “He’s a daring player and very athletic.”
Marcus Denmon is the leading scorer at 17.7 points per game and among the best rebounding guards in the nation (5.3). He’s among 25 finalists for the John Wooden National Player of the Year award. Kim English is one of the nation’s best 3-point shooters at 49 percent, dangerous again after a difficult junior season in which he appeared to lose confidence.
Junior Mike Dixon has been among the nation’s top sixth men, averaging 11.8 points and 2.7 assists.
“We’re really tight,” Phil Pressey said. “Everybody’s cool with each other, no problems. Outside of basketball, we all hang out together. It’s a pretty tight locker room and that pretty much shows how our chemistry is on the court.”
The Tigers face Texas Tech on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Mizzou Arena.