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Sports | Published Feb. 16, 2010 | 0 comments

Texas presents 'big' challenge for Missouri

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Senior forward Keith Ramsey and junior forward Justin Safford go up for a block against Texas A&M freshman forward Khris Middleton on Saturday at Mizzou Arena. Ramsey, Safford and the Tigers will play Texas on Wednesday at home. Katie Currid/Senior Staff Photographer

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Katie Prince/Graphic Designer

Published as a part of Maneater v. 76, Issue 36

Texas features the Big 12's leading rebounder and a 290-pound center.

The Missouri men's basketball team is learning first hand the meaning of "Everything's bigger in Texas."

Four days after taking on a Baylor starting lineup that included 6-foot-10-inch junior forward Ekpe Udoh, sophomore forward Anthony Jones and 7-foot senior center Josh Lomers, the Tigers will again face a couple of domineering big men.

Awaiting Missouri (18-7, 6-4 Big 12) Wednesday night will be No. 15 Texas (20-5, 6-4), 6-foot-7-inch senior guard/forward Damion James and 6-foot-10-inch, 290-pound senior center Dexter Pittman.

James, the Big 12's leading rebounder, combined with the powerful Pittman will provide a challenge for Missouri's two starting forwards: 6-foot-8-inch, 230-pound junior Justin Safford and 6-foot-9-inch, 217-pound senior Keith Ramsey.

"We've got to do a good job of making them uncomfortable," coach Mike Anderson said. "James, he's the leading rebounder in our league, so obviously rebounding is going to be a big key in this game."

James leads the conference with 11.3 rebounds per game in conference play, and the Longhorns as a whole are pulling down a league-leading 43.6 boards per game this season.

James is also dangerous on the offensive end; his 18.9 points per game in conference play is good for fourth-best in the Big 12.

As James excels at getting the ball, Pittman has had success in swatting it away. His 2.12 blocks a game this year is the third best in the conference.

Getting that many rebounds and blocks means Texas has to be anything but dainty when on the court.

"A physical game," Safford said about what Missouri can expect going against Texas' inside presence. "They're a really physical team; they like to bang. They're big bodies, so we're going to have to do a good job of clearing them out of the paint."

The Tigers' success rate at clearing opponents out of the paint and pulling down rebounds has been a reliable indicator of the game's outcome in conference play.

When Missouri is out-rebounded, it is 1-4, and when it cleans the boards more than its opponent, the Tigers are 5-0. Outperforming the Longhorns in the paint will be a crucial step in downing Texas.

When it comes to preparing for the Longhorns, Ramsey said the best possible thing to do was to actually get on the court against them.

"You've got to come out there and play," Ramsey said. "You can't go out there with what you know they can do. You just got to go out there and play them, so that's what we're going to do."

The Longhorns are coming off a 91-51 thrashing of Nebraska on Saturday but have lost two of their last three.

Sitting tied with Texas in a three-way logjam for third place in the Big 12, the Tigers are looking to rebound from a last-minute loss at Baylor on Saturday. Despite the difficult loss, Safford said the team couldn't afford to let it sink in.

"That was something coach emphasized to us, that we can't have that carry over," Safford said. "I think guys know it's a tough loss, but we got to move on. We've got a lot of basketball left."

What's left is six games in the regular season, starting with Texas at 8 p.m. Wednesday in a sold-out Mizzou Arena.

"We look forward to the ultimate challenge as we get in the last six games of conference play," Anderson said. "Each game gets bigger, becomes magnified and hopefully we get a chance to defend the home court."

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