Missouri was embarrassed 16 days ago at Rupp Arena, suffering the third-worst loss in program history.
But the Tigers vow not to have a repeat of the 86-37 loss against No. 1 Kentucky when the teams meet again at 8 p.m. Thursday on ESPN at Mizzou Arena.
“We’ve just got to be smarter this time when we play them,” said senior point guard Keith Shamburger, a graduate-student transfer from Hawaii. “We can’t put ourselves in a deep hole and expect to get out of it, because you won’t get out of a hole once you get in a hole with Kentucky. We’ve got to be smarter and play smarter.”
Missouri, 7-12 and riding a five-game losing skid for the first time the 2005-06 season, believes it has a few things working in its favor this time around.
It begins with playing in front of the home crowd.
“That’s the good thing about it: We’ll play here this time,” Shamburger said.
“Our little freshmen love the fans here, and our fans love our little freshmen here, so it will all be good for everybody. I think it will be a good game, and I don’t think it will be (anything) like two weeks ago. I think we’ll be ready.”
The Tigers seemed awestruck by the setting in front of 24,248 fans in Lexington, Ky., during the first meeting.
Missouri also played timid against a Kentucky team loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans and future NBA lottery picks.
In friendly confines and with the experience of that game, painful as it was, the Tigers expect to play considerably better.
“We didn’t play (anything) like ourselves,” Shamburger said. “We let them keep us out from the basket the whole game. We didn’t attack really. It looked like we didn’t have (any) fight. We all talked about it, and it’s just going to be a whole different outcome this game.”
Missouri also will be at full strength this time around.
Freshman guard Montaque Gill-Caesar missed the first meeting because of back spasms and junior guard Deuce Bello was suspended indefinitely for academic reasons.
The presence of Gill-Caesar, who scored 16 on six of nine shooting and made all three three-point tries Saturday against Arkansas, should help immensely.
“He played maybe his best game as a Missouri Tiger,” first-year MU coach Kim Anderson said of Gill-Caesar’s performance in a 61-60 loss against the Razorbacks. “The one thing I think that he had been struggling with was kind of letting the game come to him. I thought he did a really good job of doing that.”
Gill-Caesar, who is nicknamed “Teki,” played within the flow of the offense. He was effective coming off screens and didn’t force much against Arkansas.
“Teki’s a big part of our offense, so having Teki back will help us a lot …” Shamburger said. “He’s going to help us a lot just being out there with us and adding more toughness and athleticism.”
Anderson acknowledged that challenge remains daunting, calling Kentucky, 19-0 and 6-0 in the SEC, the best team in the country.
“The beat us handily in Lexington,” Anderson said. ‘They dominated us; they controlled us from about the 12-minute mark on in the game. … They have so many weapons and they are so deep, we have to play almost a perfect game to win.”
At the same time, Anderson said, “I think our guys are excited to maybe come back and play and make amends for what happened a couple of weeks ago.”