Multimedia by Kaveh Kaghazi
Mizzou prepares for raucous Allen Fieldhouse
“It’s 16,000 vs. us,” Missouri senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe said. The last time a Missouri team left Kansas’ iconic Allen Fieldhouse with a victory was 1999. On Saturday, Feb. 25, the No. 3 Tigers try to break their slump at “Phog” Allen with an experienced team, confident from a Feb. 4, 74-71 win against the Jayhawks. Seniors Kim English and Ricardo Ratliffe and sophomore Phil Pressey share their experiences of one of the loudest venues in America.
Tigers’ focus shifts inside
When asked how to stop Kansas forward and national player of the year front-runner Thomas Robinson, Missouri forward Ricardo Ratliffe paused and looked to the floor before finally settling on an answer.
“You don’t,” Ratliffe said.
Robinson, a 6-10 junior from Washington D.C., has been a force in the Big 12 this season, averaging more than 17 points and 11 rebounds per game. In the first matchup between Missouri and Kansas, the Tigers threw an array of players at Robinson, double-teaming him for most of the night. The extra defenders had no effect on Robinson’s game as he scored 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a losing effort on Feb. 4.
“You just try to contain him,” Ratliffe said. “I don’t feel I’m capable of going out there and him having zero points and zero rebounds.”
Combine Robinson with the 7-foot Jeff Withey, who is averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds since Missouri held him scoreless earlier this season, and all of a sudden the Tigers could be faced with significant matchup problems at Allen Fieldhouse.
Withey was held scoreless and attempted just one shot when the teams played three weeks ago. Senior forward Kim English can take credit for Withey’s struggles, as he played stout defense against the 7-footer.
“A phrase that basketball guys use is do your work early,” English said. “Be in position early…They’ve always been tremendous as far as inside the paint, and I don’t expect that to stop.”
Production inside from Robinson and Withey will be key to Kansas’ success Saturday, but Missouri’s ability to get to the hoop could spark trouble for the Jayhawks. Robinson has averaged four fouls in his last six games, and fouled out of Wednesday’s game against Texas A&M.
Ratliffe said he expects the Missouri guards to attack the basket early and often to draw fouls on Robinson.
“We can’t play on our heels,” junior guard Michael Dixon said. “We can’t play passive so we’re going to try to go at their bigs when we get in the lane—me and Phil and all the guards.”
The Tigers have had foul troubles of their own of late with English and center Steve Moore each fouling out of Tuesday’s Kansas State game. English was “crushed” by the 78-68 home loss, but said he and the Tigers had to bounce back.
“We’re 25-3,” English said. “If you would have asked me in August if we’d be 25-3 headed into Allen Fieldhouse, I’d take that.”
English will likely take on Withey again as the 6 foot 9 inch Ratliffe defends Robinson. Missouri coach Frank Haith said the Tigers would have to “bring the muscle” against Kansas–a task that will fall directly on Ratliffe’s shoulders as he prepares to face one of the best big men in the country.
Ratliffe said there are a number of things he can do to make the game difficult for Robinson, but there is one facet of Robinson’s skill set that can’t show up on Saturday.
“I know he’s a guy that flies high above the rim,” Ratliffe said. “That’s one thing I can do, try to cut him to zero dunks because that’s what gets the crowd into the game.”
The No. 3 Tigers haven’t won in Lawrence, Kan. since 1999. Saturday’s game will have key conference implications as Missouri (25-3, 12-3) sits one game behind No. 4 Kansas (23-5, 13-2) in the Big 12 standings. Tip-off at Allen Fieldhouse is set for 3 p.m.