It took double overtime, but Missouri completed step one in its last-ditch bid to land a spot in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday by nipping Texas A&M.
The chore gets tougher Friday when the Tigers, 22-10, tussle with No. 1 Florida, 29-2, at noon in the SEC quarterfinals at the Georgia Dome.
Missouri is 4-14 all-time against the top-ranked team in the nation with only one of those wins — at Kansas in 1990 — somewhere other than the Hearnes Center.
The Tigers’ last victory against the top-ranked team came in 1997 and also against the Jayhawk, but Missouri is 0-5 against No. 1s since then.
Of course, none of that history matters Friday.
“It’s a good opportunity,” Brown said. “They’re the No. 1 team. They had a real good regular season, but it’s postseason now. It’s a new season, and we’re looking forward to playing Florida.”
It’s also a chance for Missouri to nab a much-needed statement victory to enhance its resume for Sunday.
“(Florida is) the best team in the country, but we’re the only team in the country that has this opportunity tomorrow,” Haith said. “We’ve got to go look forward to it.”
Winning is all that matters for the Tigers on Friday is the quest for a school-record sixth consecutive trip to the Big Dance. The Gators just happen to be in the way.
“We need this win tomorrow,” junior Jabari Brown said. “I feel like it’s the type of win that can put you in the tournament. We’re going to bring everything we’ve got. They’re a good team, so we’re going to have to fight.”
Brown scored a team-high 15 points in a 68-58 loss Feb. 4 in Gainesville, which was the only meeting this season between Missouri and Florida.
“They’re a tough, senior-led group,” Clarkson said. “They play well together and rebound well, so we’ve got to keep them off the glass and find shooters. (Sophomore Michael) Frazier can light it up at any time, so we’ve got to make sure we keep him smothered.”
Here are a few keys to upsetting Florida:
1. Get to the free-throw line
Missouri was aggressive against A&M and wound up going 40 of 53 at the free-throw line.
During the first meeting with Florida, the Tigers were eight for 12 at the stripe. Missouri must do a better job getting to the line in the rematch.
When the Tigers are moving the ball quickly and decisively, the offense flows and the results can be striking as they were in the first half against the Aggies.
When Missouri decides to dribble too much, the offense bogs down and the result is a bounty of turnovers or rushed shots late in the shot clock.
To beat the Gators there needs to be more of the former and less of the latter.
“We’ve just got to continue to do what we do — share the ball, have great spacing and hit the first open guy,” Haith said. “What you cannot do is try to always dribble through it.”
2. Ignore the hype
As best as it can, Missouri needs to forget that Florida is the No. 1 team in the nation.
The Tigers should forget that the Gators have won 23 straight games and that no SEC team has beaten them this season.
Missouri can’t dwell on the fact that a loss almost certainly relegates them to the NIT.
The focus needs to be less on the jersey and simply on execution.
Florida’s feisty defense demands that and the margin for error is too thin to focus on anything else.
3. Get Ross going
Juniors Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown haven’t attempted fewer than nine shots in a conference games and each average roughly 13 shots per game.
Senior Earnest Ross sometimes needs more of a jump start. He isn’t the best shooter on the team, but he’s important as a release valve for Brown and Clarkson.
When Ross is playing well, other teams have to respect that and, against a great team like the Gators, it’s imperative that the big three be firing on all cylinders.
Missouri vs. No. 1-ranked team, all-time results
Missouri faces the No. 1 team in the nation, Florida, in the SEC quarterfinals at noon Friday. Since 1951-52, the Tigers are 4-14 against the top-ranked team in The Associated Press poll.
|| Opponent (neutral-site location)
|Jan. 12, 1952
|Feb. 22, 1958
||vs. Kansas State
|March 1, 1958
||vs. Kansas State
|Dec. 7, 1964
|Dec. 22, 1971
|Nov. 26, 1983
||at North Carolina
|Nov. 29, 1985
||vs. North Carolina (Anchorage, Alaska)
|Feb. 25, 1989
|Jan. 20, 1990
|Feb. 13, 1990
|Feb. 25, 1995
|March 19, 1995
||vs. UCLA (Boise, Idaho)
|Feb. 4, 1997
||W, 96-94 (2OT)
|Feb. 17, 1997
|March 9, 1997
||vs. Kansas (at Kemper Arena)
|March 17, 2001
||vs. Duke (Greensboro, N.C.)
|March 3, 2002
|Dec. 22, 2004
||vs. Illinois (St. Louis)