Throughout the season, coach Mike Anderson has gushed about how senior forward Keith Ramsey's play extends beyond the stat sheet. Just as the Tigers have elevated their play late in the season, so has Ramsey.
"The leaders of our basketball team are starting to emerge big time," Anderson said. "They're voicing it, and they're playing it — (senior guards) J.T. Tiller, Zaire Taylor and, of course, Keith Ramsey. I think he's been huge for us in this stretch."
On Feb. 3 against Texas A&M, during which Missouri's 32-game home winning streak was snapped, Ramsey recorded no points and one rebound in 24 minutes. Anderson was less than pleased and called Ramsey and junior forward Justin Safford's performances "unacceptable." Ramsey took the comment to heart and responded in a big way.
"Honestly, I'm just playing hard, now that it's getting down to the end of the season, my senior year," Ramsey said. "So I'm going to go ahead and start leaving it all out there."
In his first game out following the forgetful performance against the Aggies, Ramsey was a force on the inside. The senior scored 10 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked four shots and had two steals at Colorado on Feb. 6.
Following that game, Ramsey suffered an ankle injury against Iowa State on Feb. 10 that hobbled him in the contest and the following one, a loss at Baylor on Feb. 13.
Still nursing the ankle, Ramsey had his biggest game against Texas on Feb. 17. After sophomore center Steve Moore found himself in foul trouble early in the game, Ramsey was called upon to log 37 minutes. He responded with the first double-double of his career. Ramsey netted 12 points and went toe-to-toe with a physical Texas team to grab 11 rebounds, six offensive and five defensive.
"Keith, he's getting better with every game," Tiller said. "His intensity is picking up, and he's just really stepping his role up. He's making plays as usual, but doing it in a more intense fashion. But it's looking really good, though."
On Wednesday, Ramsey forced his will once again. Colorado visited Mizzou Arena, and Ramsey punished the Buffaloes in Columbia, much as he did in Boulder, Colo. In a team-leading 27 minutes, the senior did not miss a shot, going 6-for-6 from the field and making his one free throw to finish with 13 points.
He also tied Tiller for a game-high seven rebounds, six of which came in the first half, when the Tigers pounced on Colorado.
There was some bad news for the Tigers in their 92-63 victory. Safford suffered an injury in the game's first seven minutes and did not return. Anderson announced Thursday in an athletics department release Safford suffered a tear in his left ACL.
A prolonged absence by Safford meant Ramsey would not only have to take on a bigger playing role but also a larger leadership role for the younger players.
"Steve, he would have to get more minutes," Ramsey said. "Even some of those freshmen, like (forwards) Tyler (Stone) and John (Underwood), they've got to start playing big, too."
If the worst-case scenario should become a reality regarding Safford and he doesn't come back for a while, the Tigers are comfortable with Ramsey's play. Anderson has seen the changes throughout the season.
"He's got more confidence and assertiveness," Anderson said. "I think he's a lot more confident and he understands it. He gets it."
That good news for the Tigers could be bad news for their opponents in the crunch time of the season.