Thu, 21 Mar 2013 19:14:45 GMT —
LEXINGTON, Ky. --- The Missouri Tigers made basketball history last year.
When you make history in the NCAA Tournament, that's certainly worth noting.
It may not be worth celebrating, but it is worth noting.
The Tigers became the Biggest Loser in the history of this event. Ever.
Ever is a long time.
But when Norfolk State, a No. 15 seed, stunned 24-point favorite Missouri, a No. 2 seed, it was --- according to the Wise Guys in Vegas --- the biggest upset in the history of this grand event.
No underdog has barked louder. Ever.
It hurt then but it's forgotten now, according to Frank Haith.
"Doesn't have an effect on our guys at all," the Missouri coach said Wednesday, as the No. 9 seed Tigers (23-10) get set to face the No. 8 seed Colorado State Rams (25-8) at 8:20 p.m. tonight at Rupp Arena.
"This is a whole new ball club and our guys understand it's a new season," Haith continued. "We tend to stay in the present and not worry about the past, because you can't do anything about the past."
Sure. But hopefully, the Tigers have learned from their mistakes.
Time after time this season --- actually it was seven times --- Missouri lost a game down the stretch it could have won. In most cases, these were games the Tigers should have won.
"We have to do a better job of finishing games," MU senior Alex Oriakhi said. "I tell our guys, you better figure it out now, because if you don't, you're going home."
Said senior Laurence Bowers: "I've been telling people this all year: I don't feel the games we've lost have come down to the last possession. It's been a combination of things we did throughout the whole game."
In many ways, the Tigers and Rams are mirror-images of each other.
* Nine of the 10 starters average in double figures, including all five Tigers, from 11-14 points per game. Four starters for the Rams average 11-14, the other averages nine.
* Only two teams in the country have a better rebounding margin than Missouri's plus 9.6. One of those, however, is Colorado State --- plus 12.1, which is No. 1.
"I think rebound and effort plays," Haith said, "are always important to success in a basketball game."
* This game features two marquee matchups. First, inside --- Oriakhi (6-9, 225-pound sr., 11.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg.) vs. Colton Iverson (6-10, 260-pound sr., 14.7, 9.8).
"He's obviously very physical, very athletic and can rebound," Iverson said of Oriakhi.
* Second, outside --- Phil Pressey (5-11, jr., 11.6 ppg., 7.1 assists) vs. Dorian Green (6-2, sr., 12.8, 3.8), one of five senior starters for the Rams.
"Pressey is their key and Dorian is our key," Rams coach Larry Eustachy said. "Its starts with the quarterback of the team and when Dorian plays well, we win. When he doesn't, we struggle."
While the Tigers are trying to ease the pain of last year's shocking and sudden end to their season, the Rams are trying to win a game in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 24 years. So something's gotta give.
Oriakhi knows all about winning in the tournament, as he was a key cog on Connecticut's national championship team in 2010.
"It was something I'll remember the rest of my life," he said. "I see a lot of similarities, as far as team chemistry and talent. I feel in order to win a national championship, you definitely have to take it one game at a time.
"That's what I really try to tell these guys."
Said Bowers: "I truly believe this team is capable of making a special run."
Perhaps. Here's a possible omen: It snowed today in Lexington. On the first day of spring, and in the Bluegrass State, it snowed. It's almost like you-know-what was freezing over.