Mizzou focused on stopping “versatile” Cowboys freshman

By Kaveh Kaghazi

Three weeks ago in Stillwater, Okla., Oklahoma State freshman Le’Bryan Nash burst onto the college basketball scene, carrying the Cowboys to a 79-72 upset win against then No. 2 ranked Missouri.

Nash and Oklahoma State won’t sneak up on the No. 3 Tigers when the Cowboys visit Mizzou Arena on Wednesday, Feb. 15.

“We didn’t execute defensively,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said.

“We’ve got to guard them better and Nash was outstanding in that game, so we’ve got to do a much better job on him.”

Ricardo Ratliffe had 25 points and 12 rebounds in the Tigers' 79-72 loss against OSU on Jan. 25. At 73.7 percent, Ratliffe remains 0.9 percent shy of the NCAA single-season field goal percentage record.

The freshman from Dallas, Texas, scored a career-high 27 points, including three 3-pointers in the Cowboys lone victory against a ranked opponent this season. Nash has averaged 16 points in his last six games — up from his 12.5 point per game average prior to the Jan. 25 victory against MU.

“He’s versatile,” junior guard Michael Dixon said.

“If you put a big on him, he’ll bring him out to the perimeter. And if you put a smaller guy on him, he’ll try to post you up.”

The 6-foot-7 Nash wasn’t the only player to give Missouri (23-2, 10-2) fits the first time around. Fellow freshman Brian Williams scored 22 points, converting on 10 of 12 free throws, while sophomore Markel Brown brought the house down at Gallagher-IBA Arena with two highlight reel dunks.

“Those guys will drive the ball,” Haith said. “That’s their deal. Williams and Brown—they’re very athletic.”

Coming off a 72-57 win against Baylor on Saturday, Feb. 11, the Tigers’ defensive focus switches from inside to outside. Baylor’s massive height advantage posed problems for Missouri on the glass. The Bears’ starting lineup has three players 6-feet-7 or taller as they jumped out to a plus-15 rebounding advantage in the first half on Saturday.

The Cowboys spread the floor, using a four-guard system similar to Missouri—a contrast senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe said is just the nature of the Big 12. 

“It’s a real versatile league,” Ratliffe said.

“We’ve got big teams and we’ve got little, quick teams like us. But I mean everybody’s good…you can’t take a night off in this league.”

The Cowboys (12-13, 5-7) have their sights set on accomplishing something no other team has done against Missouri this season: beat the Tigers at Mizzou Arena. At 14-0, MU is one of only 14 Division 1 teams yet to lose on their home court in 2011-2012.

Ratliffe continues to chase Steve Johnson’s 30-year-old NCAA single-season field goal percentage record. At 73.7 percent, the forward remains 0.9 percent shy of the record after a 3-for-9 performance against Baylor. Ratliffe had success against Oklahoma State the first time the teams played, scoring 25 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in the loss.

Asked about Missouri’s strategy against a smaller Oklahoma State team, senior Kim English said the Tigers will continue to feed Ratliffe early.

“We have a specimen inside,” English said. “We start the games inside-outside and the floor spreads.”

As to why they were unsuccessful three weeks ago in Stillwater, Okla., English pointed at the lack of execution and defensive breakdowns late in the game.

“We’ve definitely shown growth since that game,” English said.

Since the loss, Missouri has been successful closing out late in games. Three of the Tigers’ last four wins have come by three points or less—two of them coming on the road.

Tip-off at Mizzou Arena is set for Wednesday at 8 p.m.

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2 responses to “Mizzou focused on stopping “versatile” Cowboys freshman

  1. Pingback: Daily Bullets | Pistols Firing

  2. Pingback: KC SportsNation » MU Daily Links 2/15/12: MU out for revenge with Okie State tonight, more » KC SportsNation

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