Soft-spoken Ratliffe plays game of volumes

The lone Missouri starting forward has been key in the Tigers' productive offense.

Senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe speaks with a deep baritone, his words coming with a low rumble that demands those near to listen closer to hear.

Missouri's lone big man in the 8-0 No. 10 Tigers' four-guard starting lineup talks strictly business and so far it's paying off. He currently leads the nation with 77.3 percent shooting.

The first order of business, Ratliffe knows, is on the boards. At 6 feet 7 inches, he is the tallest of the starting five and says he embraces the responsibility of making up for the team's lack in size.

"Most of the time, I'm gonna be guarding the best rebounder," he said earlier in the season. "So, I'm just trying to keep my guy from getting the ball. But if it's in my area I put it on myself to make sure I get the ball."

When he entered the locker room Nov. 11 at Mizzou Arena during halftime against Southeast Missouri State, he says he was just waiting for coach Frank Haith to come say something to him. He knew that his coach was aware as well as he was that he had only corralled one rebound in the half.

And sure enough, Haith was.

"Ricardo Ratliffe can't get one rebound in a half, never," Haith said flatly after the game. "We can't win if he only gets one rebound in a half."

Ratliffe averages 14.3 points per game and a team-leading seven rebounds per game. The senior forward is playing in a system that glorifies the guard, a style that puts on display the position's speed and ability to burst in transition.

Yet even with Haith's talented crop of guards, he has held fast to his philosophy of the "inside-out" game.

It has been the 240-pound, broad-shouldered Ratliffe that has proven to be a cornerstone on offense.

"I feel he's the key to the four-guard lineup," said senior guard Marcus Denmon, who is thriving this season, averaging 21 points per game. "Ricardo's alone in there and when you get the ball inside to him, usually good things happen."

When Ratliffe transferred to MU from College of Central Florida, where he was considered the top junior college player in America, he was noted as having a rare outside shot. But it has been in the paint where Ratliffe has been most effective.

During his team's last four matches, he has scored on 30 of his 32 attempts.

"I just commend the guards," Ratliffe said. "They find me in places I can score. When they penetrate, my man moves over. I get a layup. Whenever they're coming, I just have my hands ready because I know they're looking for me."

In the Tigers' 81-71 win over Villanova on Tuesday night, Haith called Ratliffe "just outstanding" as he recorded a double-double on 17 points (8-of-8 shooting) and 11 rebounds.

Ratliffe was consistently the player teammates were looking for. On two occasions, sophomore point guard Phil Pressey slashed through the lane to the basket before dishing it to the awaiting Ratliffe, who rose up and emphatically dunked two-handed.

"My teammates told me they want me to dunk more," he said after the game.

They know how loud he can be.

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