December 21, 2007

Tigers hope its their turn to brag

For seven years now, the Missouri Tigers have headed home from St. Louis for Christmas with a bad taste in their mouths. Each year this decade, the Tigers have fallen to Illinois in the annual Busch Braggin' Rights series. It is time, say the Tigers, to end that streak.

"We really need this game, not just for us, for the fans. They're tired of losing that game," Leo Lyons said. "We haven't won that game in a while."

The Illini have taken the last seven games by an average of 12 points per contest. They hold an 18-8 edge since the series resumed in 1980 and a win this year would match their eight-game winning streak from 1983-1990. But there is reason for the Tigers to hold out some hope entering this installment of the rivalry.

What none of the Tigers would say is that not only is Missouri perhaps more prepared to win this game, but that Illinois is not the behemoth it has been the last few years. The recent editions of the Illini have come in with lofty national rankings, national title hopes and NBA lottery picks littering the roster. This year, Illinois is just 6-and-4 and is coming off a 61-58 overtime loss to Miami (OH).

"It's a 'groundhog day'," Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber said of the way his team lost Thursday night. "It's pretty simple, somehow we have got to make some shots. Whether it's three pointers or free throws."

Illinois comes into this game needing a win to bolster its NCAA tournament resume heading into Big Ten play. Missouri is in the same boat, looking for a third win over a high-major conference team as it heads toward Big 12 play.

The Tigers do have one extra source of motivation. They do not want to match the longest losing streak by a team in Braggin' Rights history.

"I kind of want to get that off my chest. I don't want to go out losing four in a row to Illinois," Marshall Brown said. "It's definitely a big game for us as a team. I feel like this is an opportunity for us to get a big win under our belts."

The Tigers and Illini tip off at 8 p.m. on Saturday in St. Louis.

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