KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- With the Big 12 season getting underway this week, Missouri may have found just the right time to hit its stride.
After coming up a few possessions short against No. 1 Illinois on Dec. 22, a game the unranked Tigers lost 70-64, Missouri beat then-No. 12 Gonzaga 63-61 last week. The win against the Bulldogs -- who were coming off a 78-75 victory over then-No. 3 Oklahoma State, the defending Big 12 champion -- was Missouri's third victory in its last four games.
The Tigers (7-5) hadn't beaten anyone ranked so high since they upset then-No. 6 Oklahoma State last February.
"I think there's been an urgency they've started to develop, not just about our season but about each play," said coach Quin Snyder. "You can't take plays off, and you can't take games off. I think that shows a maturity that's developing on their part, an understanding of how they've got to be all the time.
"It confirms for our guys that we're on the right track."
After a game against American tonight, Missouri opens its Big 12 season against Iowa State on Saturday, while No. 7 Oklahoma State plays at Texas Tech, Colorado is at Oklahoma and Kansas State is at Nebraska.
League play kicks off Wednesday as second-ranked Kansas hosts unbeaten Texas A&M. Baylor and No. 15 Texas close the opening week, meeting in Austin on Sunday.
It's been a successful non-conference season for the conference, which had a 99-26 record against outsiders going into this week. Texas A&M (11-0) and Kansas State (9-1) have been the biggest surprises. Neither was projected for anything more than a second-tier finish.
"I think everybody has scheduled according to what their team needed to get ready for conference play," said Texas coach Rick Barnes. "Once we get into conference play, it will all play out. But I do think the league is balanced. I don't think there's any question about that."
Kansas power forward Wayne Simien, who has been out with an injured thumb since Dec. 18, has said he hopes to be ready for the Jayhawks' game Saturday at No. 8 Kentucky. Coach Bill Self is doubtful.
"They haven't even started rehab yet on range of motion," Self said. "His thumb's going to be so stiff, he's not going to be able to move it. It takes a long time to get that back."