The No. 6 Illinois Fighting Illini will try to regain their edge over the Missouri Tigers when the regional rivalry resumes on Saturday night.
Their annual Braggin’ Rights game will be played in Columbia, Mo. instead of St. Louis due to the pandemic. The Tigers won the virtual coin flip to decide which campus got the game, but they will play it with no fans inside Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers have won the past two games in this series after Illinois had won 12 of the 18 previous meetings.
“We have a very hungry Missouri team who’s been playing great,” Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu, who averages a team-high 22.6 points per game, told reporters. “We owe them one, definitely.”
The Illini (4-1) are coming off a momentous 83-68 road victory over the No. 10 Duke Blue Devils Tuesday night as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. That was a nice rebound from the Illini’s 82-69 loss to the No. 2 Baylor Bears last week.
“It was one of those games because a lot of talk was with us in the preseason — you know, this and that — and we came out and had two great opportunities to play two really great teams,” Dosunmu said. “We accepted the challenge, we came in and played well.”
Missouri (4-0) rallied past Liberty 69-60 Wednesday night. The Tigers are enjoying their best season start since they opened 10-0 in 2013.
“Obviously, the Illinois game is going to be exciting, a lot of intensity,” said Missouri guard Mark Smith, who played his freshman year with the Illini before transferring. “But I just think we’re going in ready, to keep it moving.”
The Illini should have a notable inside edge with the tag team of 7-foot, 285-pound Kofi Cockburn (13.0 points, 9.4 rebounds per game) and 6-9, 240-pound Giorgi Bezhanishvili (8.0, 4.2).
“Giorgi’s playing absolutely phenomenal and we need him on the floor,” Illini coach Brad Underwood said. “We see all of Giorgi’s tools, and here is throwing a lob pass against the press. He’s such a good passer. He’s scoring in the post. He’s playing with tremendous confidence. I love him defensively right now because he’s talking and he’s energetic, and we’re a better team on the defensive side when he’s out there.”
Missouri is a guard-driven team, led by Mark Smith (17.2 ppg), Dru Smith (13.8 ppg) and Xavier Pinson (13.5 ppg). But the speedy Pinson missed 12 of 13 attempts from the field at Wichita State, then he turned the ball over six times against Liberty.
“He’s a talented player, he’s a quick player, but he’s got to let it flow,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I think part of that, everybody got a little stagnant, just kind of waiting and standing. Just let it come to him because he’s so fast, he can get to the rim on anybody.”
–Field Level Media