‘We can’t underestimate them’: Missouri players, coaches ready for a breakfast battle with Utah State
Dancing in the morning: Utah State, Missouri not fazed by relatively early tipoff time in NCAA Tournament first-round game
SACRAMENTO — Boise State’s Max Rice, whose team is at Golden 1 Center this weekend for an NCAA Tournament first-round game against Northwestern, was asked by a reporter from Missouri for some advice on playing the Broncos’ Mountain West rival, Utah State.
Fair question. Short answer.
“No comment,” Rice said.
“They’re a very good team with a very good coach. We can’t underestimate them. We’re still picked as the (1.5-point) underdog. That’s how we like it. We wouldn’t want it no different.” — Missouri guard Tre Gomillion.
Was the son of Boise State coach Leon Rice, public enemy No. 1 in Logan the past few years, taking one last shot at the Aggies? Or was he politely declining to pass along secrets on how to beat a conference foe?
Reaction to exactly what Rice intended was mixed among the media corps.
Asked the same question, Boise State’s Naje Smith replied: “Don’t let them shoot.”
Suffice it to say, the Aggies’ opponent at 10:40 a.m. MDT Thursday — the Missouri Tigers of the SEC — had a lot more to say about Utah State Wednesday, and almost all of it was unquestionably filled with good intent.
“Utah State is a good team,” said Mizzou graduate point guard Nick Honor. “Should be a good game.”
Said Tigers two-guard Tre Gomillion, also a graduate student: “I feel like we know the chip (on their shoulder) they have coming into this game. They’re a very good team with a very good coach. We can’t underestimate them. We’re still picked as the (1.5-point) underdog. That’s how we like it. We wouldn’t want it no different.”
Gomillion then handed out a compliment that would make the bushy-bearded Rice blush, saying USU’s offensive system is like that of SEC rival Alabama. Yes, that Alabama, the overall No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.
Aggies on the air
No. 10 Utah State (26-8)
vs. No. 7 Missouri (24-9)
Thursday, 11:40 a.m. MDT
At Golden 1 Center, Sacramento
Radio: 1280 The Zone
“They want to space the floor with shooters, want you to gamble, over help, get fast in transition,” Gomillion said. “Nothing we haven’t seen before. … We will be prepared.”
Honor, who began his college career at Fordham and was at Clemson the past three seasons, and Gomillion, who transferred in from Cleveland State, have both played at the so-called “mid-major” level like Utah State and said there is not that much of a difference.
If anything, they said, USU will be motivated by conference pride and want to show that the Mountain West — which is putting four teams in the tournament for the second-straight year — is as good as any Power Six conference outside of the Big 12, ACC and Big Ten.
“Even though we’re at the high major level, we still have the mid-major chip on our shoulder because at the end of the day we’re still underrated and slept on around the country,” Honor said.
The Orlando, Florida, product said he personally knows Nevada guard Kenan Blackshear and watches a lot of his friend’s Mountain West games.
“I know how the league is,” Honor said. “Just over the years, catching those games on a late night you can see how good that league really is. So we are not underestimating them by any means. … The Mountain West has our respect, for sure.”
Thursday’s game certainly won’t be played late into the night. In fact, it won’t even tip off in the afternoon. With a 10:40 a.m. local time tipoff, it will be the earliest game either team has played in years.
Honor said the early tipoff time “kinda makes you feel like a kid again” when AAU and other traveling summer all-star circuit games started as early as 8 a.m.
“Haven’t done it in a while, but it’s nothing we haven’t done before,” said Missouri guard/forward Kobe Brown. “We should be ready.”
Gomillion said coach Dennis Gates and his staff have done “a good job of getting us up early, getting our heart rates going early.”
The 10th-seeded Aggies (26-8) played three consecutive afternoon games before Christmas in Hawaii, but the overwhelming number of their games were played at 7 p.m. or after.
On the topic of high-major against mid-major, USU’s Rylan Jones knows all about that, having played for the Pac-12’s Utah his first two seasons in college.
“Playing in the Mountain West prepared us for this moment,” said Jones, who hasn’t played since Jan. 7 and won’t play this week because of multiple concussions. “We’re prepared for it (through) our brutal conference play. Every game you play, it is a battle. … It has prepared us to play Missouri and be here in March Madness. Now let’s go make the most of it.”
Missouri’s Gates said USU reminds him of Penn, because Penn spreads the team out and relies on the 3-pointer.
“Utah State’s personnel is very, very unique,” Gates said.
The first-year Mizzou coach said he has turned to a former Mizzou coach with whom state of Utah basketball fans are very familiar: former Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder.
“Quin has been a great resource for me,” Gates said. “Even in that transition of him being out of coaching, then getting back in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks, he’s set aside time to reach out, and I thank him for that.”
Several Utah State players and coach Odom said that Missouri most reminds them of New Mexico, followed by UNLV, because of those teams’ ability to put pressure on the ball and turn teams over. Odom said offensively the Tigers are a lot like Oral Roberts, a team the Aggies held off 95-85.
“They are really tough on both sides of the ball,” Odom said. “It is going to be a hard game.”