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Missouri v Texas

Missouri guard Kim English (left) knocks the ball away from Texas guard Julien Lewis in first-half action during a game between Missouri and Texas on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo. Photo by Chris Lee, clee@post-dispatch.com

COLUMBIA, MO. • The scene would be one of borderline hysteria merely with ESPN's "College GameDay" on-site, the tent city of students camping outside Mizzou Arena and Mizzou preparing to play supreme-rival Kansas with both in the top 10 for the first time in 22 years.

And then there's that one other detail.

"There is some pent-up frustration with everybody with the rivalry and them going to (the Southeastern Conference); this could be the end of a long, long rivalry as far as home-and-home goes," Kansas coach Bill Self told reporters after KU beat Oklahoma 84-62 on Wednesday. "They will want bragging rights in their place.

"Certainly, we would like nothing more than going over there and spoiling their party. They have a terrific team and we will have to play the best that we have played, but I think our guys will be fired up to do it."

No doubt No. 4 Mizzou (20-2 overall, 7-2 Big 12) will be just as fired up as the eighth-ranked Jayhawks (18-4, 8-1) at 8 tonight for their 266th meeting since the series began in 1907.

So much so that the real achievement for coach Frank Haith in preparing the Tigers may be to keep them from emotionally hyperventilating and being too excited to function fundamentally.

The buildup is so breathless that MU senior Kim English was asked if it's the biggest game in school history.

"The university's pretty old; I've only been here for four years," said English, who said the atmosphere surrounding it has the feel of a really big football weekend, "but that within the program the emphasis is on process."

That reflects Haith's mantra that it's a big game but ultimately the next game on the schedule, even amid the hoopla.

"I will say this, it hasn't been a normal week. There a lot of things going on," he conceded before adding, "We have talked about not getting distracted, about focusing on us staying true to who we are and what we've done all year ...

"We don't want to go into this game looking at it as any more than it is."

Which is to say it has potential implications in NCAA Tournament seeding and looms significantly in MU's pursuit of its first Big 12 title in its last Big 12 season.

"To me, that thinking is not healthy," said Haith, whose Tigers play at Kansas on Feb. 25. "If we're focusing on the task at hand, which is the next game, if you do that, that other stuff, the league race, will take care of itself."

Kansas controls the series 171-94, and MU has had particularly little say over KU in the recent past. Since Norm Stewart retired in 1999, the Tigers are 6-20 against the Jayhawks and have won just one of the last 11 meetings.

While MU has statistical advantages in areas such as shooting percentage, free throw percentage and steals a game, KU has been a better rebounding team and has an inside tandem that will be a challenge for Mizzou on both ends of the court.

Seven-foot center Jeff Withey and 6-10 forward Thomas Robinson each are taller than any Tiger. Withey has blocked 68 shots this season and Robinson is averaging 17.6 points and 12 rebounds and has 50 of Kansas' 105 dunks.

"When that ball goes on the rim, that's when he's at his best," Haith said. "It's hand-to-hand combat with him, and you've got to be ready to take it on."

English, a 6-6 natural guard who has been playing the 4 position as MU has gone with a four-guard lineup, figures to draw Robinson.

But he said, "We're going to throw a bunch of guys at him. He's really that good, and we're really that small."

The Tigers also will have to try to contain guard Tyshawn Taylor, averaging 16.7 points, while the Jayhawks will be contending with a diverse MU team that essentially features five players averaging double figures (Phil Pressey is at 9.9).

And, of course, Kansas will be dealing with an energized crowd. "This will be as hard of an environment that we have played against, for a lot of reasons," Self said.

So much so that Haith has sent a message to fans to be respectful.

"We've got the greatest fans in the country, and I want everybody else to know that, and it's important that we do things the Mizzou way ... (and not) get sidetracked or carried away or do anything that's not appropriate," he said. "The game in itself is what's important."

Even if it is just another on the schedule.

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