Missouri risks unbeaten home record against No. 3 Oklahoma

Tuesday, February 25th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Missouri's dominant season at home is about to be put to the ultimate test.

The Tigers are 13-0 in the Hearnes Center this season, but haven't faced the likes of No. 3 Oklahoma. The Sooners are coming off a dominating effort against No. 7 Kansas, leading by as many as 32 points in a 77-70 victory, plus have won nine in a row in the series since losing in the 1997 Big 12 tournament.

The run for the Sooners, who are No. 1 in the RPI rankings, includes an 81-75 victory over the Tigers last spring in the West Regional final.

``Oklahoma is playing as well as anybody in the country right now,'' Missouri coach Quin Snyder, who's 0-6 against the Sooners, said in advance of Wednesday night's game. ``Part of the growth process for this team is really learning how to compete.''

Plus, Missouri (16-7, 7-5 Big 12) will be without guard Ricky Clemons indefinitely. Clemons broke his left, or non-shooting hand, in Saturday's 89-68 loss at Colorado.

The injury leaves the thin roster, which has only seven scholarship players, even thinner. Josh Kroenke, who started at the beginning of the season before losing his spot to freshman Jimmy McKinney, likely will return to the lineup in place of Clemons.

Missouri is off to its best start at home since 1995-96, when it also won its first 13. But the Tigers have been struggling elsewhere, and are 6-6 overall in their last 12 games.

``That's what this team is discovering as this year progresses,'' Snyder said. ``How to compete, how to play, every little play.''

Hollis Price and Quannas White had 19 points apiece as Oklahoma (19-4, 10-2) destroyed Kansas early, although the Sooners got a scare at the end. Snyder put little stock in the Kansas comeback.

``Anytime you have two teams of that caliber and one gets way ahead, it's hard to play from 20 points ahead,'' Snyder said. ``The game changes and I don't know if you read too much into that.

``The biggest thing is how Oklahoma jumped on them.''

Price will present problems for Missouri. Coach Kelvin Sampson said he's never had a more versatile player.

``Hollis is just one of those kids that doesn't come along very often,'' Sampson said. ``He just never takes a possession off.

``Everything you read or hear about him, it's true, and it may not be giving him justice.''

But Oklahoma is wary of Missouri's success at home.

``You can't take any team for granted,'' White said. ``They're not winning on the road, but they're still a tough team to beat. They've got us at their place and it's going to be a tough game.''

Snyder said Colorado's victory over Missouri is the latest example of how strong the Big 12 is this season. The Buffaloes also beat Kansas at home, and Snyder said they're definitely deserving of an NCAA tournament berth.

``I thought frankly that we played them on one of their better nights,'' Snyder said. ``But I don't think it matters. They've had a number of those nights and I thought they were terrific against us.''

Freshman Kevin Young started for the second time in three games at Colorado and may get the nod ahead of junior Travon Bryant again. Bryant has more offensive potential but Snyder said Young has been more diligent on defense and rebounding.

``That's one of the reasons he's played, because he's defended,'' Snyder said.

Oklahoma might be without Jabahri Brown, who had a concussion against Kansas. Sampson said if the game was Tuesday night, he would not be available, but that the extra day might help.

``One of the side effects of a concussion is constantly falling asleep, and he's having some problems with that,'' Sampson said.