Safford boosts Mizzou in tight win over Texas Tech

Justin Safford played the most minutes of any Mizzou forward in Wednesday's win over Texas Tech. (File photo by Karen Mitchell)

KANSAS CITY–With Laurence Bowers and Ricardo Ratliffe in foul trouble, Justin Safford and Steve Moore stepped up to buoy Mizzou in an 88-84 win over Texas Tech in the opening round of the Big 12 Championship Wednesday night at Sprint Center.

While neither had a particularly impressive stat line, both gave Mizzou incredibly valuable minutes in the first and second half. Safford show 5-10 from the floor for 10 points while grabbing four rebounds and Moore went 3-4 for six points and two rebounds, but Safford logged more minutes (27) than Ratliffe (23) and Moore (15) more than Bowers (14).

But it was Safford who had the greatest impact, especially in the first half. During a 15-5 run between the seven and three minute marks in the half, Safford scored six points (Marcus Denmon added eight in that stretch).

Safford deflected attention away from himself after the game, answering a question about his play in one sentence. “I got in a little bit of a rhythm, and that was about it,” said the senior forward.

But Safford’s teammates were able to elaborate on his play for him.

“I felt that he came in and he was a difference in the first half,” said Denmon. “He had a lot of energy. He was in there battling, and it was a key for us to get Justin playing well, and I’m glad to see it.”

Kim English added, “I was standing up halfway through most of [Safford’s] shorts. I just knew they were in a rhythm…but it was good to see the ball go through the hole for him because that opens up so much more for our offense having a big that can step out and create mismatches.”

“It’s good we can go to our bench and those guys can come in and give us some key moments,” said coach Mike Anderson. “And that’s the tale in tournament play. You’re going to have some unsung heroes, and I’m looking forward to some more unsung heroes as well as guys starting out and getting a lot of minutes tomorrow.”

Denmon, Michael Dixon and English accounted for most of Mizzou’s scoring, as the trio netted 20, 17 and 15 points, respectively. While English didn’t prove to be completely over his recent woes—he shot just 4-10 from the floor and committed three turnovers—he did shoot six free throws, making five. Only Dixon got to the line more, as the sophomore went 8-9 on free throws.

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Big 12 Tournament wrap: Nebraska falls to Oklahoma State, Colorado downs Iowa State

KANSAS CITY–If you missed either of this afternoon’s Big 12 Tournament games, you missed two great opening games to the Big 12’s final tournament with 12 teams. The two departing teams—Nebraska and Colorado—played this afternoon, with the Huskers losing to Oklahoma State and the Buffaloes beating Iowa State.

Oklahoma State 53, Nebraska 52

One bad step quashed any chance Nebraska had at making the NCAA Tournament. Down one with 10 seconds remaining, Lance Jeter drove the lane but slipped and fell, turning the ball over as the clock ran out on Nebraska’s tournament hopes.

Nebraska had control of the game well into the second half, but a pair of three-pointers by Keaton Page—one of which came while Page was fading away and had a hand in his face—turned momentum in Oklahoma State’s favor. Page netted 16 points in the game, one fewer than Jeter, who led all players with 17.

Colorado 77, Iowa State 75

Few players this year have matched Colorado’s Alec Burks shot-for-shot. But Iowa State’s Jake Anderson did just that, scoring a career-high 33 points to Burks’ 29.

Anderson and Diante Garrett combined for 52 of Iowa State’s 75 points, with the combo shooting 56 percent from the floor. The rest of Iowa State shot a putrid 23 percent, with Scott Christopherson the biggest offender. The junior guard shot below the Mendoza Line (19 percent), going 3-16 from the floor and 2-9 from three.

Burks scored just four points and shot one free throw in the first half, but went off for 25 points in the second half largely due to his 11-13 free throw shooting. He also grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds.

Baylor’s Jones III suspended

According to multiple media outlets, Baylor forward Perry Jones III has been suspended for the remainder of Baylor’s season due to accepting impermissible benefits. The former five-star recruit and likely future NBA Draft lottery pick averaged 13.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game for the Bears this season.

Baylor takes on Oklahoma at 6 pm in the final game before Mizzou’s 8:30 pm tip against Texas Tech. Stay with KBIA Sports Extra on twitter throughout the evening for updates and analysis from this week’s Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.

Bowers, Ratliffe, Denmon earn Big 12 recognition

Ricardo Ratliffe (gold) won Big 12 Newcomer of the Year; Laurence Bowers (black) was named to the Big 12 All-Defensive team. (Photo by JJ Stankevitz)

Despite losing its last three games, Mizzou got some positive news late Sunday afternoon.

Ricardo Ratliffe was named the conference’s newcomer of the year, beating out notable players such as presumptive 2011 NBA Draft No. 1 overall pick Perry Jones III of Baylor. Ratliffe, the preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, averaged 10.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on the season.

Laurence Bowers was one of five players named to the Big 12 All-Defensive team, joining Brady Morningstar (Kansas), Jacob Pullen (Kansas State) and Dogus Balbay and Tristan Thompson (Texas).

Finally, Marcus Denmon was named to the Big 12’s All-Conference first team, joining LaceDarius Dunn (Baylor), Alec Burks (Colorado), Marcus Morris (Kansas), Pullen and Thompson. Bowers and Ratliffe were honorable mentions.

Power outage, sloppy play cost Mizzou baseball in series loss to UIC

Poor pitching, sloppy fielding and stagnating offense doomed Mizzou this weekend, as the Tigers fell to 3-7 on the season by losing two of three games to UIC March 5 and 6.

Mizzou committed five errors in Saturday’s series opening 11-7 loss. Those errors compounded starter Matt Stites’ rough outing, as the junior college transfer allowed six runs (four earned) on six hits, four walks and four strikeouts over just four innings of work.

Reliever Jeff Emens allowed four runs—just one earned—on five hits, two walks and two strikeouts in 3.2 innings. While errors can certainly be blamed for the nine runs allowed, that Mizzou’s first two pitchers walked as many as they struck out hardly exonerates them.

While Mizzou scored seven runs in game one, the offense continued to struggle to get extra-base hits. Of Mizzou’s 14 hits, just one went for extra bases (a double by Andrew Thigpen).

Mizzou jumped out to a 6-0 lead in game two and never looked back, winning for the only time in the series 11-4. While Mizzou had just two extra-base hits—doubles by Jonah Schmidt and Jesse Santo—the Tigers drew 15 walks and collected 12 hits, scoring runs by overloading the basepaths and picking up a few timely hits.

Rob Zastryzny started and allowed just two runs over his 5.1 innings, although his 3/4 walk-to-strikeout ratio was iffy at best.

Sunday’s rubber match saw Mizzou be dominated by UIC starter Matt Heaslip, who started in place of the Flames’ Matt Salemi. Salemi pulled a groin in his pregame bullpen session, which forced Heaslip into the game under interesting circumstances, as Heaslip forgot his uniform on the team bus and had to wear Salemi’s.

Heaslip entered the game with an ERA over 10.00 and a 6/2 walk-to-strikeout ratio in eight innings pitched this year, but the right-hander threw 8.2 innings of one-run ball against Mizzou. The Tigers managed just seven hits and one walk en route to their lowest run output of the season.

“Today was a day they played really well. They made some really nice plays defensively, their starting pitcher was really good after the third inning, and you’re gonna have games like this,” said coach Tim Jamieson. “The one I get angry about is game one yesterday when we played like crap. That’s the game you gotta point at because if we win that game, the confidence level for Illinois-Chicago is different on Sunday.”

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Mizzou’s Thomas throws second perfect game

It had been nine years since Mizzou’s last five-inning perfect game and 20 since the program’s last seven-inning perfecto.

And Chelsea Thomas has now thrown two in the span of five days.

Thomas struck out 15 of the 18 Missouri State batters she faced in Sunday’s 11-0 Tiger victory in St. Louis. To read that another way, only three opponents put the ball in play off Thomas. Here’s hoping Mizzou’s defense found a way to stay warm without much, if any action in the field.

Jenna Marston and Marla Schweisberger homered to support Thomas, although she hardly needed the 11 runs. Schweisberger’s home run was a walk-off grand slam that run-ruled Missouri State in the sixth inning.

Chelsea Thomas throws first Mizzou perfect game since 1991

Mizzou starter Chelsea Thomas threw the program’s first seven-inning perfect game since 1991 Wednesday afternoon against Drake. Stay tuned for a full recap of Thomas’ feat.

Mizzou and the NCAA’s new baseball bat regulations

Through seven games Mizzou, as a team, has shown about as much power as former St. Louis Cardinal and current Philadelphia Phillies infielder Placido Polanco.

The Tigers’ team isolated power (ISO, slugging percentage minus batting average—which measures a player’s true power) sits at .087 through 230 team at-bats. In 2010, Polanco’s ISO was .088.

That’s just for reference—Mizzou hardly is fielding a team solely comprised of Polanco incarnates. But the point is that Mizzou has hardly shown off a powerful offense in its first seven games.

Behind that are two factors: first, Mizzou’s offense wasn’t powerful to begin with; and second, the NCAA’s new bat regulations.

With Brett Nicholas and Aaron Senne off to the minor leagues, Mizzou lost its two top home run threats from the 2010 squad. Jonah Schmidt and Eric Garcia entered 2011 as the leading returning home run hitters from last year, but they hit seven and six home runs, respectively.

So it’s not altogether shocking Mizzou’s power stats aren’t high to begin the season. What is surprising is that the team’s power numbers are those of a slap-hitting infielder. And that’s where the NCAA’s new bat regulations may just come into play.

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Bowers, Ratliffe impress as Mizzou crushes Baylor

Behind a combined 33 points and 22 rebounds from forwards Laurence Bowers and Ricardo Ratliffe, Mizzou (22-6, 8-5) defeated Baylor (17-10, 6-7) 77-59 Wednesday night at Mizzou Arena. Bowers scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds while Ratliffe had a double-double, scoring 11 points with a game-high 13 rebounds.

As a team, Mizzou out-rebounded a Baylor team with a stable of long, athletic, talented forwards 36-34. In addition, thanks to Bowers and Ratliffe Mizzou out-scored Baylor in the paint 32-24 for the game.

“Those guys are very long and athletic, but I think that we’re athletic and I think we wanted it a little more than they did,” said Bowers of Baylor’s forwards.

Ratliffe added the star power Baylor possesses added to his motivation. “Some of those guys are projected to go to the NBA, so I tried to rise to the occasion and step up to their level,” said the junior forward.

Baylor coach Scott Drew noted fatigue was a factor in the Tigers winning rebounding and scoring battles in the paint.

“Our guys get a little tired, maybe don’t box out as much because of fatigue, and those guys are good players. So if you don’t give them maximum effort, they’re going to get the rebounds,” said Drew. “I’ve thought all year long that they’ve been kind of underrated. Watching film you realize how good they are.”

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Garcia, Mach bring power to middle infield

When looking at a baseball team’s infield, generally the team’s first and third basemen are the most skilled offensively—at least, in terms of power numbers. Occasionally, you’ll see good offense out of a second baseman or shortstop, but rarely both.

Unfortunately for Mizzou, the team has offensive questions at both first and third base. Fortunately for Mizzou, the team’s best offense may come from its second baseman and shortstop.

Conner Mach—brother of former MU third baseman Kyle Mach—is slated to man second base for the Tigers and brings loads of power potential to the plate. While Mach had a wholly average 2010 (60 at-bats, two home runs, .810 OPS), he’s earned the trust of his teammates and coaches and will hit cleanup for Mizzou this season.

Eric Garcia enters his sophomore year as the best returning hitter on the 2011 team. With the departures of Aaron Senne and Brett Nicholas, Garcia’s .860 OPS and 1.37 walk-to-strikeout ratio are the best among Tiger returnees. Only Jonah Schmidt returns with more home runs to his name—seven—than Garcia’s six.

“It’s been a while since we potentially had that much offensive production from those [positions],” said coach Tim Jamieson. “Usually we’ve had one guy at the top of the lineup and one guy at the bottom of the lineup, but with those two guys you’re talking about the 3-4 hole hitters.”

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Big 12 coaches pick Mizzou baseball to finish last in conference

The Big 12 released its baseball preseason coaches poll Tuesday morning, and the results were not kind to Mizzou. The Tigers, whose consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance streak ended at eight last year, received just 17 points in the poll to finish dead last in the voting.

Losing the team’s two best offensive players (Aaron Senne, Brett Nicholas) and best pitcher (Nick Tepesch) from last year’s team certainly factored in to the low ranking.

The 10th-place ranking should come as no surprise to Mizzou players, though, as they’re  reminded of similar evaluations every time one steps into the team locker room.

“A lot of people actually picked us dead last in the Big 12,” said outfielder Blake Brown Monday, before the Big 12 coaches’ poll was released. “That’s up on our video board in our locker room as motivation to keep working hard.”

Reliever Kelly Fick agreed the low rankings can be used as motivation.

“It’s fine with me that everybody thinks we’re gonna be there, but it’s gonna be fun to surprise some people.”