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February 24, 2007

Huskers the next big game for Mizzou

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Many are calling Missouri's game against Nebraska on Saturday the biggest of the Tigers' season. Of course, many have said the same thing about the last four or five Missouri games.

"Every game's a big game for our basketball team," said Mike Anderson.

At this point, that is most certainly true. Three weeks ago, not many would have imagined such a scenario was possible. At that time, the Tigers were 2-and-6 in league play, mired near the Big 12 cellar. In the five games since, Mizzou has picked up four wins and vaulted from tenth to fifth in the conference standings.

"Our guys hung in there and hung in there and found a way to win there at the end," Anderson said after the Tigers' latest win, a 72-68 triumph over Oklahoma. "A month ago, I don't think that would be possible. But I think the maturation, they matured a little bit, I think our guys understand a little bit more about winning basketball."

Winning basketball is something the Tigers have played a lot of lately. Mizzou has won four of five and six out of nine after an 0-and-4 start. Half of those six wins have come on the road, where Missouri travels to take on the Huskers at the Devaney Center on Saturday afternoon. A road win would clinch the Tigers' first .500 Big 12 season away from Columbia since 1999-2000.

But it could also set up much more. A win over the Huskers would put the Tigers 18-and-9 on the season, keeping alive hopes of a 20-win regular season schedule. It would likely ice an NIT invitation at the end of the season. And it's an absolute necessity if Missouri is going to continue to entertain hopes of getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Not that the Tigers will admit to thinking about any of that.

"Let's control the things we can control and that's going to be the next practice that we have more than anything else," Anderson said. "Then Nebraska is the next game and that's the game this team needs to focus on."

"We don't even worry about that," said sophomore forward Leo Lyons. "We just worry about day by day, just worry about the next practice or the next game."

The next game is, as usual now, the most important one. Stefhon Hannah says the Tigers have just one goal in mind:

"Let's end this season right."

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