Three Missouri players not ready for careers to end

Missouri center Alex Oriakhi is one of three Missouri seniors who will be playing in their final NCAA Tournament beginning Thursday against Colorado State.

Missouri center Alex Oriakhi is one of three Missouri seniors who will be playing in their final NCAA Tournament beginning Thursday against Colorado State. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA — For Missouri’s seniors, it’s one last chance for elusive glory. For the rest of the Tigers, it’s a special opportunity not to be taken for granted.

As No. 9 seed Missouri prepares for NCAA Tournament play against No. 8 seed Colorado State at 8:20 p.m. Thursday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., the Tigers know it’s now or never.

“Now we’re competing for a national championship, I think our guys are excited,” Missouri head coach Frank Haith said. “When you lose you’re done. I also want our guys to be very appreciative of the opportunity. The way you respect that opportunity is how hard you go at it in our prep work and how hard you compete when you go out there.

“As we can see, a lot of teams didn’t even get into this tournament. It’s not that easy. I think we are all very excited about the opportunity that we get to continue to play.”

Missouri’s three seniors — Laurence Bowers, Alex Oriakhi and Keion Bell — know how precious these moments are, and how one bad game can end their college careers.

“Every day I keep telling myself my days are numbered,” Oriakhi said. “I just keeping reminding myself, ‘How do you want to be remembered?’ One game and you’re done. I’m just going to leave it all out there on the floor and play as hard as I can and motivate my teammates. It’s definitely a surreal feeling.”

Bowers has passed along some words of advice to his teammates, too.

“It’s just a matter of telling them how much you have to play with a sense of urgency because if you lose, you’re done,” he said. “Nobody wants our season to be over with. I really think we have a team that can go on a special run.”

The Tigers have one player who knows a thing or two about going on special runs in the NCAA Tournament. Oriakhi played an integral role in Connecticut’s national championship run in 2011. Then a sophomore, he tallied 7.3 points and 9.3 rebounds during the Huskies’ surprising six-game march to the title.

This season, the 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward is averaging 11.1 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds. Oriakhi also brings experience and guidance to the table.

“Alex has taken up a big part of our leadership as the year’s gone on,” Haith said. “I think he’s really been our vocal guy that has been playing with a sense of urgency. I think he’s really stepped up. We’re really relying on him to be that locker room guy, to be an emotional leader.

“He’s been remarkable. He’s playing with such high energy and controlled high energy. You get a guy like that playing well this time of year, that’s something we can ride to have some success in the tournament.”

The other two seniors — Bowers and Bell — have been crucial to Missouri’s success this year as well. Bowers leads the team with 14.4 points and is second with 6.2 rebounds. Bell pours in 11.1 points and has taken on a role of a defensive stopper and secondary ballhandler.

The Tigers will need the three seniors to live up to those standards in order to make some noise in the tournament. With their next loss being their last as a collegiate, you can almost bet on the senior trio to come up big.

“The urgency is there,” Haith said. “I think everybody understands you’re going to play a great team in the NCAA Tournament. You’re not going to play a team that’s not any good. If you don’t play with a sense of urgency you’re going to be going home.”

Colorado State will bring a similar sense of urgency, considering the Rams start five seniors — Colton Iverson, Dorian Green, Wes Eikmeier, Greg Smith and Pierce Hornung.

“They’re a veteran team and we’re a veteran team, that’s what we’re going in with,” Haith said.

Six wins and you’re champions, one loss and you’re done. Missouri’s seniors are ready for the gauntlet.

“Well obviously you’re excited,” Bowers said. “A lot of teams don’t get this opportunity.”

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