COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) One game when the shots refused to fall, and now Ricardo Ratliffe is playing catchup against a 31-year-old record.
The 6-foot-8 Ratliffe is the lone inside threat for No. 3 Missouri, which has ridden a four-guard attack to surprise elite status under new coach Frank Haith. For most of the season, he's been a can't-miss option.
Ratliffe, who takes most of his shots within arm's reach of the rim, has for most of the season been ahead of the NCAA single-season field goal shooting record set in 1980-81 by Oregon State's Steve Johnson (74.6 percent).
Ratliffe is still the national leader by a wide margin at 73.7 percent. But last week's game against then-No. 6 Baylor put him on the outside looking in. The Bears concentrated on taking Ratliffe out of the equation after getting burned in the first meeting and got beat by a rain of 14 3-pointers instead. Ratliffe, however, entered the game at 75.1 percent and wound up just 3 for 9 with six points against a front line that goes 6-11, 6-9 and 6-9.
"It wasn't frustrating because I was worried about a percentage," Ratliffe said. "I just didn't think I played as well I could have. But we've got so many great players that we're still able to win even though just one guy may not be on his A' game."
Of course, he is all too aware of this game within the game.
"Yeah, I mean when you hear about it every five minutes, then it's just like engraved in you," Ratliffe said Monday. "So you think about it all the time."
Missouri (23-2, 10-2 Big 12) has a shot at winning the conference in its final season before moving to the SEC, entering Wednesday night's home game against Oklahoma State (12-13, 5-7) a half-game behind first-place Kansas.
Ratliffe has been a big reason, even if he is somewhat under the radar. The 240-pound Ratliffe rarely dunks, often throws in a pump fake or two before releasing and doesn't have a reel full of crowd-pleasing blocks, either.
But he sure knows how to convert all those entry passes from flashy point guard Phil Pressey and the rest.
"It's like a great marriage," Haith said. "I don't know that Ricardo would have his great play without good guards and I don't know if our guards would be as good as they are if we didn't have a low post presence."
Ratliffe, the former junior college player of the year at Central Florida Community College, gets plenty of good looks right on top of the basket because the Tigers have so many ball handlers who are equally comfortable launching the 3-pointer or driving the lane. Pressey is among the conference leaders with 5.8 assists per game, Michael Dixon averages three assists and Marcus Denmon, who leads Missouri with an 18-point average, chips in 2.4 assists.
"Whenever I've got a good big buy that can score, I try to give him the ball as much as possible to keep him happy," Pressey said. "He's at the right place always at the right time. I just try to find him."
Missouri averages eight 3-pointers and is hitting at a 39-percent clip. That buys valuable space inside.
Ratliffe has just 55 missed shots in 209 attempts with three perfect games, going 6 for 6 against Oklahoma, 7 for 7 against Binghamton and 8 for 8 against Villanova. He was 10 for 11 against Northwestern State, too, and then the truly impressive stats, given the competition:10 for 12 against Texas and 11 for 14 in the first Baylor meeting.
"Ricardo is our horse down low," teammate Kim English said. "He sets the tone on the glass, and that's big for us."
The only other stinker came against Mercer, when Ratliffe was just 1-for-6.
Far from a one-trick pony, Ratliffe leads Missouri with 6.8 rebounds per game. He and English are tied for second in scoring at 14.0 points.
Plus, he gets praise from his coach for eliminating concentration lapses that used to bog down his game and for running the floor "as well as any big man in the country."
"He's been able to say next play,' and that's a huge improvement for Ricardo," Haith said. "We don't have success if we don't have Ricardo's play."