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Tigers heat up early basketball season in Cancun

Missouri’s Laurence Bowers (21) celebrates a basket late in the second half of Saturday’s game against North Florida at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers take on Wyoming today in Cancun.

Missouri’s Laurence Bowers (21) celebrates a basket late in the second half of Saturday’s game against North Florida at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers take on Wyoming today in Cancun.

Missouri was the last basketballteam in the preseason Top 25 to open its season. The 11th-ranked Tigers are making up for lost time and are in the midst of seven games in a two-week stretch.

Players were excited about the prospect before leaving for Mexico for tonight’s game against Wyoming in the Cancun Challenge. Forward Laurence Bowers said more games equals fewer practices.

“We’d rather play a game than have a practice any day,” Bowers said. “Practice is the hard part, actually, and playing games is fun. We’re definitely excited about going to Cancun and playing four or five games in a few days.”

Missouri (2-0) will play either Providence or La Salle on Wednesday before returning home Sunday against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, then next Tuesday it’s on to Kansas City for a neutral-site game against Georgetown.

Up first is Wyoming (2-2), which beat Western Illinois 64-55 on Saturday night, a slightly bigger margin than Missouri’s 66-61 victory over the same foe two days earlier.

The Tigers’ first two games were uneven, to say the least. Western Illinois took them to the wire in the opener and they toyed with North Florida on Saturday, taking a 16-2 lead and then coasting before putting the game away with a 24-0 run the final eight minutes.

The opener was Missouri’s first win with no scorers in double figures since 1951. In the second game, Missouri set a school record by forcing 34 turnovers.

Bowers has had 10 rebounds in both games, including his fourth career double-double Saturday, and the 6-8 junior has blocked four shots in both games, cracking the top 10 on the school’s career list.

Bowers was one point shy of a double-double in the opener. Coach Mike Anderson said he’s not surprised.

“He’s one of those guys that’s been around,” Anderson said. “He’s had more minutes than any of the forwards we have here, he and Justin Safford, so I expect it.”

Newcomer Ricardo Ratliffe, the junior college player of the year last season, stepped it up after a tentative opener with 16 points and 10 rebounds against North Florida. The 6-8 Ratliffe said he felt a lot more at ease.

“I just tried to find my place,” Ratliffe said. “If I’m not scoring good, just try to stay on the glass and play defense.”

Anderson gave 10 players 10 or more minutes against North Florida. He expects to narrow his selection at some point, but right now it appears the team’s strength is depth, with backup center Steve Moore and freshman guard Ricky Kreklow getting meaningful minutes.

“This is great,” Anderson said. “You’re going to need those guys, and they’re not just going in there when it’s mop-up time.” Anderson said. “It can’t just be in practice, you learn from games.”

There’s plenty of room for improvement. Missouri forced 21 turnovers in the first half against North Florida, yet led by only eight points.

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