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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, March 9, 4 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Thompson-Boling Arena (21,000) -- Knoxville, Tennessee. Television: ESPN. Home Record: MU 17-0, UT 12-3. Away Record: MU 2-7, UT 4-7. Neutral Record: MU 3-1, UT 2-1. Conference Record: MU 11-6, UT 10-7. Series Record: Missouri leads, 4-2.
GAME NOTES: Two of the hottest teams in the conference attempt to head into next week's SEC Tournament with momentum on their side, as the Missouri Tigers and the Tennessee Volunteers meet at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday afternoon.
The SEC standings are still very much in a state of flux on the last day of the season. Florida (14-3) has already clinched the regular-season championship, while Missouri (11-6) battles Kentucky, Ole Miss and Alabama for one of the remaining top-four seeds in the SEC Tournament, all of which earn double-byes into the quarterfinals. Tennessee (10-7) is still in contention for one of those spots, but it needs a lot of help.
Missouri has come on strong of late with three straight wins, most recently downing Arkansas on Tuesday at home, 93-63, to improve to 22-8 overall. Once considered on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers now seem safely in the field of 68, although a win in this matchup would be a huge resume' booster considering their poor road record (2-7).
Meanwhile, Tennessee has also been making waves in recent weeks, storming up the SEC standings with wins in seven of its last eight bouts, the most impressive of which coming against Florida on Feb. 26, 64-58, at home. The Vols dismissed Auburn on the road this past Wednesday, 82-75, to improve to 18-11 overall.
Missouri leads the all-time series with Tennessee by a 4-2 count, but the newly-formed SEC rivals haven't met since 1985.
The Tigers celebrated senior night in style earlier in the week as they shot a red-hot 58 percent from the field in their 30-point dismantling of Arkansas. Laurence Bowers led the way with 24 points on 10-of-13 from the floor, to go along with 11 rebounds, while Jabari Brown was hot on his heels with 23 points. Earnest Ross netted 11 points off the bench, and Alex Oriakhi tacked on 10 points and eight boards.
At 77.7 ppg on 46.3 percent field goal shooting, Missouri is clearly one of the most dangerous teams in the SEC, especially considering its entire arsenal of weapons are healthy for the stretch run. Bowers paces the squad with 14.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg and more than a block per contest all while shooting greater than 55 percent from the field, while Oriakhi (11.0 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg) makes up the other half of one of the most imposing forward duos in the league. Phil Pressey (11.9 ppg) doesn't impress much with his field goal percentage (.382), but his 7.1 apg are tops in the SEC by a fairly wide margin. Rounding out the Tigers' outstanding six-man rotation is a trio of strong shooting guards in Brown (14.4 ppg), Keion Bell (11.8 ppg) and Earnest Ross (10.4 ppg).
Despite succumbing to a small Auburn run early in the second half to get down by six, Tennessee rebounded down the stretch to capture the seven-point road victory. Trae Golden and Jordan McRae each scored 21 points, with McRae adding seven rebounds and Golden handing out six assists. The duo combined to shoot 16-of-18 from the free-throw line, and McRae is averaging a massive 28.0 ppg over the last five games. Jarnell Stokes was solid as usual in the low post with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
The Vols' scoring average (66.9 ppg) has been inching upward in recent weeks, as they have netted 82 points or more in four of the last six games, and their defensive yield (63.6 ppg) has remained solid. McRae's hot hand of late has allowed him to climb all the way to 16.2 ppg on the season, good for fourth in the league. Stokes is a nightly double-double threat with 12.4 ppg and 9.3 rpg, while Golden (12.1 ppg) makes up for a poor field goal percentage (.378) by logging more than twice as many assists (111) as turnovers (53).
This matchup certainly holds a lot of intrigue both for the SEC Tournament and for each team's NCAA Tournament resume', so expect everything to be left out on the court. With both teams riding hot streaks, expect this one to come down to the Vols' strong home court advantage (12-3), especially considering Missouri's road woes.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tennessee 77, Missouri 75
03/09 10:41:35 ET
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