With a win Saturday, No. 4 Missouri would essentially make the Big 12 Conference a two-team race between itself and Kansas.
That’s just not how coach Frank Haith and his players are viewing their upcoming matinee against No. 4 Baylor at Mizzou Arena.
“Baylor’s no different than Oklahoma or Kansas, in terms of it’s the most important game, because it’s our next game,” Haith said.
A victory would improve the Tigers to 10-2 in conference play and drop Baylor to 8-4, two games back of Missouri and Kansas. The Jayhawks would also be 10-2 with a Saturday win over Oklahoma State.
As the Tigers have been finding out, however, defeating the same team twice is easier said than done.
Although Missouri is 4-0 against the two Big 12 teams it has faced twice, Oklahoma and Texas, defeating each opponent the second time around proved to be much more arduous a task than the initial go.
Missouri’s first two wins against Oklahoma and Texas were by a combined 49 points. The last two wins against OU and UT have come much more decisively, with the Tigers winning by a total of four points.
“There’s a lot to go into when you play a team twice,” Haith said. “With a true round-robin, the champion of this league is going to be a true champion because you play everybody twice. It’s a grind. It really is.”
That grind continues Saturday, as Baylor will become the third conference opponent Missouri will have played twice this season. Defeating the No. 6 Bears a second time figures to be a greater challenge than sweeping the season series’ with the Longhorns and Sooners was.
“They’re a team we’ve beaten earlier in the year and (who) we expect to come in with a bit of a revenge factor,” Haith said.
Despite Baylor’s distinct size advantage, senior Ricardo Ratliffe was the dominant big man in the team’s first meeting Jan. 21, scoring 27 points and hauling in eight rebounds in an 89-88 Missouri victory.
Ratliffe doesn’t anticipate seeing a different look this time around against the Bears.
“They played the same zone against Kansas as they did the first time, so I’m pretty sure they’ll stick to it,” Ratliffe said.
Kansas won that game against Baylor with ease, 68-54.
In that meeting, Baylor sophomore forward Perry Jones III was nonexistent, going 1-of-8 from the field and grabbing just three rebounds. In Missouri’s previous bout with Baylor, Jones amassed a meager eight points and four boards.
“I don’t know if he was up to par himself, if he was 100 percent,” Haith said of Jones. “He’s got to be a focus of ours because he’s so athletic and he’s very gifted.”
The Tiger tasked with going toe-to-toe with Jones is senior Kim English. English gives up 5 inches and 35 pounds to Jones. But for the Tigers, those aren’t the numbers that will tell the story.
“We don’t focus in on the size,” sophomore point guard Phil Pressey said. “We know we’re quick, so we try to use that as an advantage. If they’re going to be bigger, we have to use what we can to our advantage.”