Missouri has handled its first three opponents fairly easily, but its next matchup may prove to be a bit more difficult considering Stanford has had a few days to sit on its first loss in quite some time.
The 13th-ranked Tigers look to remain undefeated in 17 regular-season non-conference games under coach Frank Haith when they meet the Cardinal on Thursday in the opening round of the 2012 Battle 4 Atlantis in Nassau, Bahamas.
Missouri has opened with three blowout wins led by a balanced offense and stifling defense. The Tigers are averaging 82.7 points and holding opponents to 59.0 per game on 33.9 percent shooting.
Their five starters are all averaging at least 9.3 points, and those players combined to score 64 in last Friday's 74-54 win over Nicholls State.
Alex Oriakhi, a transfer from Connecticut, led the way with 17 points and 10 rebounds. It was the second double-double for the senior forward, matching his total from 34 games with the Huskies last season.
"I think coach Haith and this coaching staff are just doing a great job of giving me confidence," Oriakhi said. "The most important thing, he's let me play through my mistakes. That's something I wasn't able to do last year."
Oriakhi is the first Missouri player to grab 10 or more rebounds in his first three games since Malcolm Thomas in 1983-84, a big reason why the Tigers are among the national leaders with 49.0 rebounds per game.
"We're really close to really getting to the level I think we need to be at," Haith said. "So I'm excited about where this team is headed."
Stanford also got off to an exciting start by winning its first three games, but that run came to an end with a 70-62 home loss to Belmont on Sunday. The Cardinal entered on an eight-game winning streak - the longest in the nation - dating to their run to the NIT title last season.
They hit a season-low 31.0 percent from the field, and their shooting percentage has gone down in each of the first four games.
"We have not shot the ball well and that's somewhat of a surprise for all of us," coach Johnny Dawkins said. "Everybody has to stay confident and keep believing. It will come together."
Stanford figures to give Missouri more of a challenge on the glass. It is averaging 41.3 rebounds, with 16.3 of those coming from starting forwards Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell.
"We all came to Mizzou to play our best, so I think guys are real excited," Oriakhi said. "It will definitely be a true test. We are going to play guys just as big and just as athletic as us, so I think we are ready. This is what we are going to face at the end of the season."
The winner plays No. 2 Louisville or Northern Iowa on Friday.
The Associated Press News Service
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