Missouri ready to outrun UConn’s Thabeet

The 7-foot-3-inch center will be an obstacle for the Tigers' offense.

Missouri forward Leo Lyons and forward DeMarre Carroll answer questions during the team's press conference Friday, March 27, 2009 in the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Ariz. The Missouri Tigers will play against UConn Saturday afternoon in the Elite Eight for a spot in the Final Four.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Missouri posted up with some of the nation’s best big men this year: Blake Griffin, Cole Aldrich and Dexter Pittman, to name a few. But none of them size up with Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet.

“We have never faced somebody that’s 7’3” and that can score,” junior forward Keith Ramsey said. “As long as we stay attacking, and we don’t be afraid to attack them, we’ll be alright.”

Attacking will be the easy part when the No. 3 Tigers take on top-seeded UConn at 3:40 p.m. Saturday; it’s defeating the Big East Defensive Player of the Year that will be the real challenge.

Connecticut is ranked No. 1 in the country at 7.79 blocks per game, led by Thabeet, who has racked up 150 so far this season.

“Just for the fact of driving, I don't know that driving is going to be any harder,” junior guard J.T. Tiller said. “It is just the layups that might be a little tougher. It means Zaire (Taylor) and I are going to attack like we normally do but it might be a lot of driving and kicking to get our other teammates open for us tomorrow.”

Tiller slashed ferociously through Memphis’ highly rated defense Thursday night, scoring a career-high 23 points, but he knows it’s going to take a different approach with Thabeet clogging the lane.

When the Tigers were able to take down Kansas and its stellar shot blocker Cole Aldrich, Tiller left the scoring to his teammates. It wasn’t until only 51 seconds remained in the contest that Tiller hit his first and only field goal of the night, a sweet floater that positioned Missouri for the upset.

“He’s definitely going to be changing the layups and the inside scoring, so we’re going to need to knock down some shots,” Tiller said. “That’s part of the game. You got to read and be willing to adjust. That makes out what kind of team you are.”

Missouri’s other starting guard, junior Zaire Taylor, said getting shots over a defender nearly a foot taller than him is a challenge he’s looking forward to.

“Personally, I love challenges,” Taylor said. “I think it makes it that much more fun personally.”

The Tigers’ big men will look to use their athleticism against Thabeet by playing more on the perimeter and running him all over the court.

“I think the biggest key is we got to get that big beast to run,” senior forward DeMarre Carroll said. “So hopefully we can get him running up and down the court and fatigue could be a big factor in this game.”

Against arguably the best big man in the country, Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin, fatigue certainly was a factor. The superstar, unable to keep up with Missouri's versatile forwards, only scored five points in the second half.

But Thabeet isn’t the only factor down low for the Huskies. Junior forward Stanley Robinson puts up eight points per game, and as coach Mike Anderson put it, “can jump out of the gym.”

Lyons and Ramsey should handle Thabeet most of the game, leaving Carroll with Robinson. The two have a history dating back to their high school days in Alabama.

“We were always meeting in the regional finals to go to the — like the Civic Center. That's the Big Dance,” Carroll said. “We always beat him, so hopefully we can keep that trend.”

Robinson hasn’t forgot about the losses either.

"That's the truth. I'm looking to get him back, to be honest with you,” Robinson said. “They always won on the winning end. It will be a great competition tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it.”

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