West Virginia stands in way for another Missouri Sweet 16

The Mountaineers will keep Missouri busy on defense.

Senior forward Zaire Taylor answers questions from the media Saturday afternoon at HBSC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y. "It doesn't really matter who is more talented. It matters who plays better that day, who executes and who lays more out on the line and who plays with more heart. God willing, we'll be that team," Taylor said.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — In the NCAA Tournament, there is rarely rest for the weary.

Senior forward Keith Ramsey put up one of the best performances of his career against Clemson on Friday, scoring a career-high 20 points and helping contain all-conference senior forward Trevor Booker.

But any time Ramsey or the Tigers would have to reflect on their win is quickly shortened by another defensive challenge: No. 2 seed West Virginia.

The Tigers (23-10) are seeking their second-consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 on Sunday as they head to face the Mountaineers at 1:40 p.m., but West Virginia represents a road block.

The Mountaineers stand at 28-6 and are ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press Poll. They captured their first Big East Tournament title earlier this month, defeating Georgetown in the championship game.

Led by senior guard-forward Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia features two other starting forwards who average in the double-digits in points.

Sophomores Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones average 12 and 13.6 ppg, respectively, and are another threat to exploit Missouri down low, averaging a combined 15.5 rebounds a contest.

Ramsey knew he and Missouri’s big men will be plenty busy in the paint come Sunday.

“I’ve seen them play, and they’ve got a lot of strong guys on their team,” Ramsey said. “Me, [sophomore forward] Laurence [Bowers] and [sophomore center] Steve [Moore] are going to be in for a challenge all night.”

And if West Virginia desires, it can utilize Butler on the perimeter to open up the floor. Averaging 17.2 points a game, Butler made all-Big East first team and was named the most outstanding player of the Big East Tournament after hitting two game-winning shots.

“He’s a leader,” coach Mike Anderson said. “He’s leading this team. He’s willing this team. When you look at what he did in the Big East Tournament, that’s phenomenal. Guys know that you’re going to get the ball. They know what you’re going to do, and he just comes through. That’s a big-time player there.”

Butler and company overcame a slow start to handle Morgan State 77-50 in the first round of the tournament Friday. Later that day, Missouri beat a Clemson that ran a familiar style of play.

The challenge for Missouri might be the Mountaineers’ attempt to take the Tigers out of their comfort zone and slow the game down.

These two teams have only met once, an 89-78 Missouri win in the 1992 NCAA Tournament. Another Missouri victory would snap West Virginia’s seven-game win streak and put the Tigers in the Sweet 16 in back-to-back years for the first time in school history.

In the post-game interviews Friday and in its press conference Saturday afternoon, Missouri looked loose and wasn’t afraid to crack a few one-liners. Regardless of the opponent, the Tigers don’t seem to be wilting under the pressure of the tournament.

“At the end of the day, they’re talented and we’re talented,” senior guard Zaire Taylor said. “It doesn’t really matter who’s more talented. It matters who plays better that day, who executes and who lays more out on the line and who plays with more heart. God willing, we’ll be that team.”

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