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February 3, 2012Shortly after 8:00 CST on Saturday night, No. 8 ranked Kansas (18-4; 8-1) and No. 4 ranked Missouri (20-2; 7-2) will take the court for the final time as conference foes. Think the latest, and most likely, last edition of the Border War is just the next game on the schedule? Think again.
"Yea, I think so," said Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor when asked if Saturdays Border War was a little bit more important than most regular season games. "I think it's definitely more important than other games. It's Kansas and Missouri, so just that fact alone makes it a little bit more important.
"It's the last time we're probably going to play against them, because they're going to a different conference," he added. "We're looking at it as we are playing on the road and we need to get a road win. In that aspect, it's just the same. It's a regular, tough conference game that we've got to win."
In each of its four losses this season, Kansas has responded by winning no fewer than two games after each setback. Following a loss to Kentucky, the Jayhawks bounced back by defeating Georgetown and UCLA in the ES Sports Maui Invitational. Bill Self's squad, following a loss to Duke in the championship game of the Maui Classic, won four straight before losing to Davidson on December 19.
Kansas won 10 straight games after stumbling to Davidson in Kansas City, which was a season high. Most recently, Kansas, coming off its first conference loss of the season in Ames last Saturday, defeated Oklahoma, 84-62, on Wednesday night.
While the Jayhawks have had success on the road this season (won at USC, at OU, at TT and at Texas), they've yet to experience the type of environment that awaits them in Columbia.
"I'm thinking (it's going to be the most hostile crowd I've ever played against)," said Taylor. "It's going to be pretty rough down there. It should be because they're a good team, top 5 in the country. We're a good team and it's a rival. I would be disappointed if it wasn't a good crowd.
"I'm excited about Saturday," he added. "I think it'll be a good atmosphere. Atmospheres like that feel a lot better to win in when it's a lot rougher in there, and you know the crowd is into it. I'm excited about Saturday."
Missouri, without question, has been one of the biggest surprises this season. The Tigers, under first year head coach Frank Haith, have stormed out to a 20-2 record and currently have the second best record (7-2) in the Big 12.
Must like Kansas, Missouri isn't a very deep team, but the Tigers starting five, at times this season, has been as good as any. This year's Missouri team has not only been tested this season, but has done so with flying colors on a number of occasions.
Missouri has already claimed victories over Notre Dame (87-58), California (92-53), Villanova (81-71), Illinois (78-74), Iowa State (76-69 in Ames), Texas (74-83), Baylor (89-88 in Waco), and at Texas (67-66).
Behind Marcus Denmon (17.1), Ricardo Ratliffe (14.7), Kim English (14.1), Michael Dixon Jr.(12.1), and Phil Pressey, the Tigers have a scoring punch that few can match.
Denmon, English, Dixon, Pressey, and Matt Pressey can stretch the defense from behind the arc, can drive to the basket or dish it down low to Ratliffe or big man Steve Moore.
"So much is made of how you match-up, but the bottom line is we have to match-up with them, but they also have to match-up with us," said Self. "One of their strengths is playing Kim (English) at the four. They have a lot of strengths, but that is one of their biggest. When you play him at the four, then that also isolates (Ricardo) Ratliffe one-on-one in the post because there are no traps or anything like that.
"It is a well thought-out scheme that they are doing over there and it is our job to try and take something away," he added.
While KU's backcourt hasn't been as consistent as MU's, from a production standpoint, this season. Taylor, Travis Releford, Elijah Johnson, and Conner Teahan certainly have the ability to be equally effective on both ends of the court.
If the shots are falling and if Robinson and Jeff Withey are in control in the paint and on the glass, Kansas is as good as any team. If the Jayhawks are focused, dialed in, and play up to their ability, they can run with the top teams in college basketball.
On Saturday, Kansas can't allow Denmon, English, Dixon, and the Pressey brothers to dictate the game on offense. If MU's guards have their way against KU on Saturday, it could be a long night.
However, if KU defends the perimeter and doesn't allow MU's guards an easy path to the basket, Self's squad, because of the size advantage, could very well win the game in the paint.
"I look at it both ways," said Robinson when asked about Saturday's matchup. I" don't really see it as a matchup problem. I think I have the ability to at least contain them, staying in front of them. I just look at it as he has to check me at the other end.
"If things can get bad for us, they can probably get worse for them," he added.