Bucknell-Missouri Preview

The Associated Press

Back in action for the first time since suffering its second defeat, Missouri hopes to build some momentum before beginning its conference schedule.

However, another difficult test may await the Tigers when they take on a Bucknell team that's tied for the second-most wins in the nation.

The No. 12 Tigers will try to continue their home dominance Saturday when they face the Bison in their final tuneup before opening SEC play for the first time.

Missouri, winner of 74 of its last 78 home games, has taken 72 in a row versus nonconference opponents at home. The Tigers (10-2), though, are looking to bounce back from a 97-94 overtime defeat at UCLA on Dec. 28, and their SEC opener against Alabama looms Tuesday.

"I think (the loss) is something we'll use not only in practice this week, but as we move forward heading into league play," coach Frank Haith said.

Phil Pressey will try to build on one of the best performances in school history, a 19-point, 19-assist effort against the Bruins. Pressey, seventh in the nation with 7.3 assists per game, shattered the Missouri single-game assist record and tied the SEC mark.

The assist total was the highest in a game since Alcorn State's Brandon Brooks had 20 in 2007-08.

Senior forward Laurence Bowers has also emerged as one of the top players in the SEC, averaging 19.7 points and going 8 of 14 from 3-point range in his last six games.

Missouri has averaged 92.7 points in the past three contests - 13.2 above its season average - but against UCLA, allowed its highest point total since giving up 103 to Kansas on Feb. 7, 2011.

The Tigers may need to be much better defensively to beat Bucknell, as the Bison are allowing only 58.7 points per game and have limited their last 12 opponents to 36.1 percent shooting.

Behind Alex Oriakhi (8.9 rebounds per game) and Bowers (6.9), Missouri leads the nation in rebounding with 47.4 per contest. Bucknell center Mike Muscala will be expected to help neutralize that advantage, as he's averaging 10.7 boards - 11th in the nation.

The 6-foot-11 Muscala has been particularly tough to stop inside lately, scoring at least 26 points four times in his last eight games and averaging 2.5 blocks in that span.

With a 72-56 victory over Cornell on Wednesday, the Bison improved to 7-2 on the road and 13-2 overall to match the 1983-84 team for the best start in school history. Bucknell shot a season-high 62.2 percent.

Bryson Johnson, Cameron Ayers and Joe Willman complement Muscala by averaging at least 11.0 points apiece, but the Bison will be facing a Missouri team that's giving up only 55.3 points and 32.8 percent shooting at home.

The Bison have lost nine straight to ranked opponents and are 3-25 all-time versus Top 25 foes. Bucknell and Missouri have never met.

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