Kansas won’t have much on the line in its regular-season finale, but it should have plenty of motivation.
Fresh off a lopsided victory over one Big 12 rival, the second-ranked Jayhawks will try to finish with a win over another when they visit Missouri on Saturday.
Kansas (28-2, 14-1) enters the game having clinched a school record-tying sixth straight conference title after toppling No. 5 Kansas State 82-65 on Wednesday night. The Jayhawks, who will next attempt to earn their fourth Big 12 tournament title in five years, have also all but wrapped up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
That doesn’t mean they’ll take it easy Saturday.
“It’s big for pride and for the rivalry because it is Missouri and you do not want to lose,” junior guard Brady Morningstar said. “We are going to go out there with a mindset of that.”
The Tigers (22-8, 10-5), meanwhile, have plenty to play for as one of four teams jockeying for the second-through-fourth spots in the Big 12. The top four teams earn automatic byes into the conference tournament quarterfinals.
Missouri, which won its first Big 12 tournament title last season, stayed in the race for a bye Tuesday night by beating Iowa State 69-67 in overtime on the road when senior guard Zaire Taylor raced down the floor and banked in a layup at the buzzer.
Last season, Taylor’s 10-foot jumper with 1.3 seconds left lifted the then-No. 17 Tigers to a 62-60 home victory over the 16th-ranked Jayhawks.
That was the only win in the last eight matchups of this rivalry for Missouri. However, the Tigers are 5-0 at Mizzou Arena on Senior Days and have won four straight home games against ranked opponents.
To keep those streaks going, they’ll likely need better play from their frontcourt - despite the fact they won’t have junior forward Justin Safford available.
In an 84-65 drubbing at Kansas on Jan. 25, the Jayhawks had a 56-28 rebounding advantage and outscored Missouri 36-18 in the paint. Cole Aldrich (12 points, 16 rebounds), Marcus Morris (team-best 17 points, nine rebounds) and Morris’ twin brother, Markieff (nine points, 11 rebounds) led the way for Kansas.
They also forced the Tigers into 27.9 percent shooting from the field - their worst performance in 10 seasons. Safford had a team-best 19 points and seven rebounds, but is now out with a torn left ACL.
“It probably hurts them most from a depth standpoint than anything else because Missouri’s not the biggest team,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “They’re not physically as big and he’s probably as physical a guy as they have.”
Self’s team could also benefit from a resurgent Xavier Henry. The freshman guard was in the middle of a slump the first time he faced Missouri, averaging 6.2 points on 30.6 percent over five games.
Henry has bounced back to average 18 points on 54.3 percent shooting over the past seven games, and scored a team-leading 19 in the win over Kansas State.
To have a good chance at the upset, Missouri will likely need leading scorer Kim English to break out of his slump. The sophomore guard, scoring 14.1 points per game, has averaged 8.8 on 31 percent shooting in the last four games.