KANSAS CITY, Missouri -- Missouri is primed to do all it can to win a tournament title in its last season in the Big 12.
The fifth-ranked Tigers continue that mission Friday night when they face Texas in a semifinal contest in Kansas City.
Set to leave for the SEC after this season, second-seeded Missouri (28-4) is trying to go out with a bang by winning its second Big 12 tournament championship. The Tigers’ upcoming defection has left the remaining members of the conference resentful of the way they helped create turmoil for the league.
Missouri’s players are not worried about what opponents think, but instead are focused on returning to the title game for the first time since beating Baylor 73-60 in 2009 for the school’s only championship in three tries. A victory Friday could pit the Tigers against top-seeded Kansas, which edged them out of the regular-season title, in a championship rematch.
“We want this as bad as we wanted the Big 12,” guard Kim English said. “That’s why our loss (at Kansas) hurt so bad. It was the Big 12 championship game. We just want to win a championship. It’s not a chip on our shoulder.”
English had 27 points on 11-of-13 shooting and Marcus Denmon added 24 with eight rebounds as the Tigers shot 59.3 percent during an 88-70 rout of Oklahoma State on Thursday.
“They’re a veteran, experienced, physically tough basketball team,” Cowboys coach Travis Ford said. “They might not be the tallest team, but they are a physical team.”
English has shot 17 of 24 while totaling 47 points in his last two games. Kansas City native Denmon has averaged 22.0 points on 23-of-41 shooting, including 9 of 20 from 3-point range, in his last three Big 12 tournament contests.
That likely does not bode well for sixth-seeded Texas (20-12), which is all but certain to make its 14th straight NCAA tournament appearance after a 71-65 upset of No. 25 Iowa State on Thursday.
The Longhorns might have been in anyway, but coach Rick Barnes used the occasion for a spirited halftime speech with his team trailing.
“Let’s just say we are on the bubble,” Barnes said after the game, recounting his message to his team. “Now if I write down NIT or NCAA, which one would you put your name under? Which one? Whichever one you want, you have to earn it.
“We’ve been pretty resilient all year, but you’ve got to wait for the end of the season.”
Missouri won both meetings with the Longhorns this season - 84-73 at home Jan. 14 and 67-66 on Michael Dixon’s game-winning layup with 31 seconds left Jan. 30.
“We’re going to go out there and guard everybody,” said Texas star guard J’Covan Brown, who scored a game-high 23 points Thursday. “Tournament time is always a great thing to play in.”
Brown, the Big 12’s regular-season scoring champion at 20.0 points per contest, converted a 3-point play to break a 65-all tie in the final minute Thursday to help send the Longhorns to their third win in four games.
The junior has averaged 26.0 points in his last three games overall, and he totaled 54 on 17-of-34 shooting against Missouri this season.
An 85-73 loser to Kansas in last year’s final, Texas has reached the Big 12 championship game six times but has never won it.