Preview: Tigers still talented despite tough start

See inside for Oklahoma assistant coach Ray McCallum's breakdown of Oklahoma's matchup with Missouri. Missouri foward Linas Kleiza (pictured above right) leads the Tigers in scoring (15.7) and rebounding (7.1), while OU forward Taj Gray (pictured above left) leads with the Sooners with a 15.6 ppg average. The Sooners hold a 109-90 lead in the all-time series. Tip-off is set for 12:30 p.m.

To say Saturday's matchup with Missouri in Columbia is a must-win game for Oklahoma would be an understatement.

After dropping three of their last four Big 12 games, the Sooners need a win to stay within three games of first-place Kansas and one game out of second behind Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

Missouri enters Saturday's matchup on a five-game losing streak after dropping a 74-71 decision to UNLV on Wednesday night in Las Vegas, but don't let that fool you.

On paper, the Tigers, who are 2-7 in Big 12 play and 10-13 overall, look like a team the Sooners should be able to handle. Yet despite having lost home games to Davidson, Kansas State and Texas Tech, Missouri has plenty of talent and at times has shown they can play with the nation's best this season.

The Tigers' biggest win of year was on Dec. 30 in Columbia against then No. 12 Gonzaga 63-61. Missouri also led Kansas by double digits in Lawrence before losing 73-61 on Jan. 31. They were also ahead of Oklahoma State in Stillwater midway through the second half before eventually losing 78-68.

"We've got to get our guys ready to play against a team that I think is really one of the more talented teams in the conference," Oklahoma assistant coach Ray McCallum said. "You know it's going be a big game for them because we are Oklahoma and where we are ranked."

Missouri is led by sophomore forward Linas Kleiza (6-8, 244) and senior swingman Jason Conley (6-5, 212). Kleiza leads the team in scoring (15.7 ppg) and rebounding (7.1 rpg), while Conley is the only other Tiger averaging double figures at 10.2 points per game.

"He's a tough match-up because he can go in or he can out," said McCallum of Kleiza, who has hit 22 3-pointers this season. "There will be NBA scouts watching him, which I'm sure there are every game. He's a very talented young player that's one of the top five players in this league because of his talent."

Rounding out the starting five is junior Jimmy McKinney (6-3, 208) as well as freshmen Marshall Brown (6-7, 210) and Jason Horton (6-0, 173), both of which were recruited by Oklahoma. Thomas Gardner, Missouri's third-leading scorer, comes off the bench and averages 9.2 points per game. Gardner is also Missouri's top shooting outside threat with a team-high 33 3-pointers.

"They have talent to go with (Linas) Kleiza and (Jimmy) McKinney. They're loaded talent-wise," McCallum said. "They have a group of highly-rated players and just a very talented team. When you look at Daniel Horton and Marshall Brown, these were two of the top high school players in the country a year ago."

The Sooners hold a 109-90 lead in the all-time series against Missouri, but are just 29-56 against the Tigers in Columbia. Kelvin Sampson is 12-7 against Missouri overall and 2-4 in Columbia. The Tigers have won two of the last three meetings, including last year's game in Norman, but OU has won 10 of the last 12.

Tip-off for Saturday's game is set for 12:30 p.m. and will be broadcast regionally on ABC.

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