A year ago, Missouri was one of the worst teams in the Big 12. As the 2008-09 season comes to a close, the Tigers have a chance to earn a share of their first conference title in 15 years.
The 15th-ranked Tigers look to keep their Big 12 title hopes alive with a victory Saturday over surging Texas A&M, which is seeking a signature win to enhance its NCAA tournament chances.
Missouri (25-5, 12-3), which has not won a league title since going 14-0 in the Big Eight in 1993-94, is a half-game back of ninth-ranked Kansas in the Big 12.
If the Tigers defeat the Aggies (22-8, 8-7) and the Jayhawks lose to Texas on Saturday, both teams would finish in first place. Fourth-ranked Oklahoma would also share the title if it beats Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Even if Missouri comes up short of the Big 12 title, it’s still had a remarkable turnaround from last season, when it went 6-10 in conference play to finish 10th in the league.
The Tigers are coming off an impressive 73-64 win over the Sooners on Wednesday to finish the regular season 18-0 at home. The victory was especially encouraging for Missouri after it suffered a 90-65 loss to the Jayhawks on Sunday.
“For our guys to come back like that off of a big loss to Kansas really shows their resilience,” coach Mike Anderson said. “One thing our kids do, they leave it all on the floor. They’re going to play hard, they’re going to play to win, they’re going to play together.”
DeMarre Carroll led Missouri with 15 points and 10 rebounds Wednesday for his third straight double-double after recording just three in his first 27 games.
Missouri’s hard-pressing defense forced Oklahoma to turn the ball over 22 times while holding the high-scoring Sooners to 15.4 points below their season average.
“We know if we do the right thing, we can beat any team in the country,” said senior forward Leo Lyons, the Tigers’ second-leading scorer (14.6).
Missouri, though, has not had much luck against Texas A&M lately.
The programs have not met since the Aggies’ 77-69 victory Feb. 9, 2008, their fourth straight in the series. Texas A&M has also won three consecutive home games over the Tigers since a 97-90 loss Feb. 17, 2001.
While Missouri is a virtual lock for its first NCAA berth since 2003, Texas A&M likely needs to beat the Tigers and win some games in the conference tournament to receive a bid.
“It’s huge,” Aggies forward Josh Carter said after Wednesday’s 72-66 win over Colorado. “We know to get where we want to be, we have to get this win.”
Texas A&M is closing the regular season in impressive fashion, winning five straight after losing six of its previous eight.
Carter has been instrumental during the winning streak, averaging 17.8 points on 58.3 percent shooting (21-of-35) from 3-point range. He is averaging 17.0 points in two games against Missouri since the start of the 2006-07 season.
Texas A&M has not won six consecutive conference games in a single season since a seven-game run from Feb. 8-March 4, 2006.
“We haven’t played great three of the last four games we’ve won, but we’ve played well enough to win, we’ve figured it out,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “That’s the sign of a good team.”