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January 27, 2011

Speed to Burn



Mike Anderson has built his entire program on speed. Even the nickname for his Tigers smacks of speed: "The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball." At no time are the Tigers faster than when they put Phil Pressey and Mike Dixon Jr. on the floor together.

"Speed and quickness," Pressey says when asked what the lineup brings to the floor. "And the ball pressure on defense helps out a lot."



Dixon is listed at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds. Pressey, perhaps generously, checks in at 5-foot-10 and 168. End to end, there may not be a faster duo in the Big 12.

"They're two of the quickest guards you're going to see in our league and maybe in the country," Marcus Denmon said. "With Phil and Mike out there, they just bring a lot of energy on both ends and really can push the ball and get that fast-paced game how we want."

Increasingly, the Tigers are featuring a lineup that has the two point guards on the floor together. It most often happens when Denmon, the Tigers' leading scorer and biggest guard (6-foot-3, 185) takes a breather.

"I think it's an advantage any time me and Phil are on the court. Guys might be bigger than us, but they've got to put the ball on the floor," Dixon said. "There's not really too many guards in the Big 12 that take guys in the post. I think it's an advantage and I love playing with Phil."

Anderson says Tiger fans will see the pair together more and more often as the season goes on. But he does admit the lineup could hinder the Tigers in one area.

"Mike can guard a bigger guy, Phil can and hopefully it can work to our advantage," the coach said. "I think where the disadvantage comes at is especially on the rebounding part of it. Can they get in there and come up with some of those rebounds that are below the rim?"

In Missouri's last game, an 87-54 thumping of Iowa State, that was not an issue. The Tigers grabbed a season-high 61 rebounds. Pressey had four and Dixon led all players on either team with a career-high eight.

"I don't think it's that much of a problem except maybe rebounding, but me and Mike can take care of our own," Pressey said. "In practice we guard guys like Marcus who's a lot bigger than us. We're used to guarding bigger guards."

Pressey and Dixon are not the only players who have benefited from the luxury of having two point guards. Junior forward Laurence Bowers has recently been switched to the Tigers' second-line to help add offensive production off the bench and has teamed with Pressey on a number of highlight reel plays.

"Love playing with Phil," Bowers said. "I lost Miguel Paul last year and I was kind of skeptical, worried about who would be my guy that I have a lot of chemistry with, but he definitely filled that void."

The two point guards are combining to average 16.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and just over seven assists per game. Dixon is fourth in the league in assists and Pressey is eighth. It is a one-two punch few teams can match.

"It's a good combo that we have," Pressey said. "Now that I think about it, you can't think of any other one-two point guards like me and Mike."

"The Big 12 has really good guard play," added Denmon. "I really don't know from all the teams that we've played, but I'd take mine against any other teams in the Big 12."

One team that can match the Tigers' backcourt depth is the Texas Longhorns, Missouri's opponent on Saturday. Dogus Balbay, J'Covan Brown and Cory Joseph average a combined 25 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.7 assists in 70 minutes per game.

"Balbay is more experienced, he's doing a great job of orchestrating everything. The Brown kid, played great against Kansas. They got Jai Lucas, another guy that just got there. They've had some time with these guys and, of course, Cory Joseph was a McDonald's all-American, great player," Anderson said. "They've got some guys that can do some things and of course you've got (Jordan) Hamilton who's nothing but a big guard."

Dixon and Pressey will have a chance to prove their talents on Saturday in Austin. The Horns have won 11 of their last 12 and are unbeaten in conference play. Texas has played five league games with an average margin of victory of 19.6 points per contest and no opponent has come closer than 11 points in the league so far.

"This," Anderson said, "is the ultimate challenge."

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