Illini, Tigers prep for Braggin’ Rights game
ST. LOUIS (AP) - This year’s Illinois-Missouri Braggin’ Rights clash has a little something extra, the season’s first matchup of two 10-win schools.
And Wednesday’s neutral-site matchup could have been even bigger.
Missouri (10-1) is ranked ninth, the lone setback coming in overtime against Georgetown. Illinois (10-2) tumbled nine spots to No. 21 after getting upset by Illinois-Chicago on the road Saturday.
“Everyone has down games,” coach Bruce Weber said. “If you win it, no one realizes it. You have the win. We were in the Final Four last week.”
Weber said players showed up early for practice Sunday and stayed late, working to distance themselves from the loss while prepping for Missouri’s all-court pressure. Illinois is coming off season lows for shooting percentage (32.7) and 3-point shooting (23.5).
“Are we happy? No,” Weber said. “But you’ve got to move on with life, you’ve got to play the next game. We’ve got to match Missouri’s talent.”
The Tigers put no stock in Illinois’ trials heading into a neutral site game that’s always sold out, usually 50-50, with fans on both sides bellowing throughout. It’s also the first time both schools are ranked at tip-off since 2002.
Missouri ended a nine-game losing streak in the series with an 81-68 victory last year. Illinois leads the series 20-9 and has won all six games when both schools were ranked.
“You can throw all the records, all the stats, the white collar stats out the window,” said Missouri forward Kim English, who had 24 points and five 3-pointers in last year’s meeting. “This is hard-nosed basketball. It’s going to be a grind.”
A grind with a festive, charged atmosphere, most years easily one the biggest sporting events in St. Louis and one of the toughest tickets. Rams wide receiver Danario Alexander (Missouri) and tight end Mike Hoomanawanui (Illinois) plan to attend.
“When you play in it for the first time, you realize how important it is,” Weber said. “You play at center stage. There’s so many neat things about the game.”
Missouri has already been tested in victories over Vanderbilt and at Oregon in addition to the Georgetown loss. Heading into Big 12 competition, coach Mike Anderson wants to see better pressure on defense and better rebounding.
“We’ve got to be pretty sharp, we have to continue to get efficient offensively, ball movement, people movement,” Anderson said. “Our bench is going to be pivotal.”
That’s especially so if Anderson doesn’t reinstate point guard Michael Dixon, suspended indefinitely last week for undisclosed violation of team rules. Freshman Phil Pressey, who started the last two games at the point, is out at least two weeks with a broken right ring finger.
Dixon returned to practice Sunday and Anderson said Tuesday night that the guard could play against Illinois.