As Missouri students are off for Winter Break, coach Mike Anderson and the Tigers are hardly relaxing.
With conference play just around the corner, Missouri rounded out its non-conference schedule in style, blowing out North Alabama, 98-58. The win extends the Tiger winning streak to nine games.
Junior guard Kim English scored all 20 of his points in the first half to lead all scorers. English was deadly from beyond the arc, hitting 6 of 7 three-pointers before halftime. The Tiger offense yielded yet another balanced attack, with seven players finishing in double figures.
English said the key to his success was the unselfish play of his teammates.
"Shooting-wise it was probably the best I've been this year, but I attribute it to my teammates," English said. "Guys were passing up shots because they knew I had it going. That's just the makeup of our team's unselfish basketball. That's what makes us so dangerous."
Senior forward Justin Safford also chipped in with a season-high 16 points off the bench for the Tigers. Missouri's bench totaled 40 points in the victory.
While Missouri got off to a slow start, the Tigers finished the first half strong, rolling off a 24-7 run five minutes before halftime. Missouri flustered North Alabama with defensive pressure, forcing 14 turnovers leading to 26 points in the first half. The Tigers also shared the ball well, assisting on 16 of its 21 field goals in the first.
The Tigers continued to play strong defense in the second half, holding their opponent to 26.3 shooting from the field. Missouri extended its lead to as much as 43 points, while also getting good minutes from reserves, including 10 points from freshman guard Ricky Kreklow.
Anderson said he worried about his team's ability to get up for a game against the overmatched Division II opponent.
"This is one of those games you worry about," Anderson said. "From a talent stand point, they were outmatched. When our guys came out, they sort of went through the motions, so it was a game you kind of worry about your guysñcan they get up for North Alabama? I thought we did a better job in the second half."
The Tigers improved to 14-1 with the victory, tied for the best non-conference record in school history. Missouri also extended its conference home winning streak to 57 straight games.
With non-conference play coming to a close, the Tigers now begin play against a talent-laden Big 12 conference. Five schools are ranked in the Top 25 by the AP and Coaches Poll, while Kansas is a perfect 14-0 on the season.
Despite the tough competition, many feel this is the most talented Missouri team in recent memory. However, junior forward Lawrence Bowers said the team knows it will need to play its best to be successful in conference play.
"It's a great compliment," Bowers said. "But coach (Anderson) always says to stay humble and hungry. It's always great to have recognition, but we know that going into the Big 12 every team is great and capable. We've just got to come out with our hard hats and play every game like it's our last."
The Tigers open up conference play on the road against the Colorado Buffaloes Saturday.