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December 30, 2010

En-guard



On Monday, No. 9-Missouri (13-1) rode a strong start by its forwards to a 36-point victory against Northern Illinois. Against Old Dominion on Thursday, the Tigers' guards spurred on a 13-1 run over a three-minute span late to win easily, 81-58.

Marcus Denmon, Michael Dixon, Matt Pressey and Kim English combined for 66 points in a night where Missouri's forwards scored only 15 points, led by Ricardo Ratliffe's ten.

"I think we were hungry for this win," Denmon said.

For the season, Denmon, Dixon and English all average double-figures in scoring. Matt Pressey, who has become an offensive threat the past two games, has raised his scoring average from 5.9 points to 8.2 points in the last two games. The junior college transfer scored 18 against Northern Illinois and 15 against the Monarchs.

On Monday, he cited a conversation with Anderson has the reason for his scoring spurt. On Thursday, he expanded a bit on the conversation.

"As a team, he talked about a sense of urgency for the whole team," Pressey said. "I really picked it up on defense, which really helped my offense. Early on in the game, I really try to assert myself, attack and things like that, so, yeah, that's basically what it comes down to. I finally found my reads and my gaps."

It might be a sign of the changing face of the program when, in two straight games, Denmon scores over 20 points, yet he's not a major storyline. After averaging just over 10 points a game as a sophomore, Denmon is averaging 17. 6 points a game in 2010. This is the second time in his career that he's scored 20 points in back-to-back games, the first instance coming during conference play last year against Nebraska and Colorado.

"I feel like Marcus has done a great job of letting things come to him," Pressey said. "He really doesn't have to go get it, like most players you see around the country, you see them trying to go get 22. His 22, it really comes to him a lot and that's a (tribute) to him."

Pressey said his ability to drive to the hoop has freed up Denmon more along the perimeter, resulting in open looks. Over the past two games, coinciding with Pressey's emergence, Denmon made 10 of 15 three-point attempts.

"Every time I pass Marcus the ball, I think he's going to make a three," Dixon said.

Since returning to action following a two-game suspension for a violation of team rules, Dixon has come off the bench. On Thursday, the sophomore point guard seemed to re-find his offensive form, scoring 18 on five of seven shooting. That included a perfect three-for-three from beyond the arc.

In his place, Pressey ascended to the starting role. And while Dixon doesn't sound happy about losing his starting job (a glum "That's just a coaches' decision, and you gotta live with it" is about all he offered on Thursday), his talent off the bench might be exactly what Missouri needs to make a deep run this year.

All the accolades for Missouri's guards, and English hasn't even been mentioned. Despite slumping recently, English is still averaging over 10 points a game. In Anderson's four previous seasons in Columbia, he's had just two guards average double figures in the same season. This year, the Tigers have three, and Matt Pressey's improvement could push that number to four.

Whatever stats the guards end the season with, the offensive performance of the four is noticeable. With conference play quickly approaching, the rhythm they are developing is a positive sign for the Tigers.

"We're ready," Pressey said.

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