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February 13, 2009
Tigers eye revenge against Nebraska
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Missouri looks to stretch its winning streak to five as the Tigers return home to face Nebraska in a battle of teams looking to make NCAA tournament runs. Missouri is 21-and-4 and 8-and-2 in Big 12 play. Nebraska is 15-and-7 and 5-and-4. Missouri leads the series 122-91, including 67-25 in Columbia. PowerMizzou.com has the preview:
Small Time: The Huskers average an almost unbelievable 6-foot-1 ½ in their starting five, though that gets a boost with a possible addition to the lineupe. Nebraska starts 6-foot-8 Chris Balham, but does not feature another starter over 6-foot-3. The Huskers are 11th in the league in both total rebounds and rebounding margin.
Defensive Dominance: Despite their rebounding issues, the Huskers may be the best defensive team in the Big 12. Nebraska gives up just 58.5 points per game, the best mark in the league by four points a game. The Huskers are second in the league in both steals and turnover margin. Missouri leads in both categories.
Balanced Attack: Not one individual scores as many as a dozen points a game for the Huskers. But four starters average between seven and 12 points a game, led by Ade Dagunduro. Nebraska is one of just two teams without a player in the top 20 in scoring in the league.
Ice Taylor: Twice in the last three games, Missouri has found itself tied in the final 30 seconds. In each instance, the Tigers turned to Zaire Taylor to win the game. At Texas, Taylor hit a driving layup and drew a foul to give Missouri a 68-65 lead. The Tigers won 69-65. Against Kansas, Taylor's jumper from the right side put Mizzou up 62-60 over Kansas with 1.3 seconds to play. The Jayhawks missed a last-second prayer and Taylor was the hero again.
Eyeing a Title: Mike Anderson likes to say early in the season that his team "is going to be in the hunt for something." For the first time, that something is a conference championship. Mizzou trails Kansas by a half-game in the Big 12 standings and is behind Oklahoma by a game-and-a-half. Mizzou still has a game remaining with each of those teams. Oklahoma hosts Texas Tech and Kansas travels to K-State on Saturday.
Home Sweet Home: Missouri has won all 15 of its home games this season and 16 in a row overall. The Tigers have not just won over that stretch, they have dominated. Missouri is outscoring its opponents by an average of 26.8 points per game during the winning streak, including a 21.5-point average margin in five Big 12 home games this season. The home-court winning streak is tied for the seventh-longest active streak in the nation and the seventh-best in school history. A win on Saturday could tie the Tigers for the nation's fourth-longest home court streak.
Run it Up: Nebraska likes to play games in the fifties and sixties, just as it did in the first matchup against Missouri. The 51 points the Tigers scored in that game are a season-low, and one of just two times anyone has held Mizzou under 60. The Tigers lead the league in scoring offense at better than 83 points per game. Nebraska is giving up just 58.5 and scoring only 66.5.
Hold on to the Ball: Saturday matches the Big 12's two best teams both at protecting the ball on offense and taking it away on defense. Nebraska averages nine steals a game, Missouri 10.76. Mizzou's turnover margin is +6.88 per game, Nebraska's +6.18. No other team is better than +3.88. The Huskers average fewer turnovers than anyone in the league while Missouri is fourth in that category. The team that wins the turnover battle could very well win the game.
Forward Thinking: Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll have a distinct advantage in this game. In Lincoln, Lyons had a big second half to lead the Tigers back from an 18-point deficit. But Carroll took just six shots and scored a season-low seven points. Missouri must find a way to get the ball into their big men. If the Tigers can do so, Nebraska has no one that should be able to defend the talented pair, both of whom rank in the league's top 15 in scoring. Lyons and Carroll combined for 19 points on 5-for-13 shooting in the 56-51 loss earlier this year. The duo could double that output on Saturday.
Official Prediction: For the first time in a long time, the Tigers play a game that almost no one expects them to lose. Missouri is a different team than the Huskers played last month, and a different team at home. The Tigers should be able to force Nebraska to play an up-tempo game in front of a crowd that should be ready to go for a third straight sellout. This one has the makings of a laugher for Mizzou. Doc Sadler has done a great job this season, but the Huskers' best road win came at Texas Tech. This is a game where Nebraska will have to be nearly perfect. Don't see it happening. Missouri rolls 77-59.
PowerMizzou.com will provide complete coverage from Mizzou Arena on Saturday afternoon.
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