University of Missouri

Tigers ready themselves for Illinois and the ear-splitting Braggin’ Rights game

Updated: 2013-12-21T07:50:36Z

By TOD PALMER

The Kansas City Star

— It’s been 20 years since Missouri rallied past Illinois in triple overtime in the most famous battle in the Bud Light Braggin’ Rights series.

The Tigers’ thrilling 108-107 victory set the bar pretty darn high for the 33rd edition at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Only three Missouri players — seniors Tony Criswell and Earnest Ross along with junior Jabari Brown — have taken part in the rivalry, but there seems to be a keen understanding of the game’s importance nonetheless.

“It’s a rivalry because of the history of it,” Brown said. “It’s not like a lot of our guys know their guys, but the whole atmosphere and how we play every year, that’s the rivalry part of it.”

Tigers coach Frank Haith likened the setting, which features a packed venue split evenly down the middle, to March Madness in terms of intensity.

“It’s a little different type of game, almost like an NCAA Tournament type of game with the atmosphere,” he said. “The energy and the passion in the building is unique and I think our guys are looking forward to the opportunity.”

It’s an opportunity that also presents an element of danger for No. 23 Missouri, 10-0, because of the hyper-charged atmosphere.

“I would say, ‘Get ready for it like any other game.’ But the atmosphere is so crazy and you can’t really control your emotions,” Criswell said.

Haith said not all of his players reacted positively to the environment last season, so it’s a challenge to get the uninitiated mentally prepared.

“We’re just trying to talk to them about how it’s split down the middle with people yelling ‘M-I-Z’ ‘I-L-L’ all game over and over again,” sophomore Ryan Rosburg said. “I don’t think you can really prepare for that. I think they’re going to be shocked when they get there.”

Perhaps no Tiger player understands the Braggin’ Rights stakes better than Rosburg, a 6-foot-10 forward from Chesterfield in St. Louis County.

“I’ve been going to this game since I can remember,” he said. “I always asked for Christmas for tickets to the Braggin’ Rights game. It’s definitely a special game for me — just the atmosphere, and it’s really cool to go home.”

Rosburg didn’t make it off the bench for last season’s contest, an 82-73 victory for the Tigers, but he should be in the starting lineup as Missouri tries to extend its longest winning streak in the series to five in a row.

“Last year, walking out and seeing everything, I was taken aback,” Rosburg said. “It was a glimpse back in time and I remember watching guys do the same thing. Now that my role’s kind of expanded, I think it’ll be more enjoyable.”

Rosburg’s father, Paul, frequently bought front-row tickets for the game — though sometimes Ryan and his brother, Andy, had to fight over who got the second ticket.

Those sibling battles are a distant memory as Rosburg aims to etch his name in Braggin’ Rights lore.

“We know it’s important to him,” Brown said. “He’s trying to get all my tickets for the game.”

After moving to the SEC, which doesn’t have as rich of a basketball tradition as the Big 12 (particularly the last few seasons), the Braggin’ Rights battle with Illinois perhaps has become the most important regular-season game for Missouri at the moment.

“They’re like KU now, and we just don’t like them,” Criswell said.

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.

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