GLENDALE, ARIZ. -- A reporter at a press conference for Missouri players Friday continually referred to Connecticut 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet as "The Beast." He did it so many times that the Tigers players began to chuckle amongst themselves.
"I don't know why he kept doing that," point guard J.T. Tiller said later. "We don't call him that. We just call him Thabeet. Just plain Thabeet."
All nomenclature aside, the 7-foot-3 Thabeet presents a beast of a problem for Missouri in its Elite 8 matchup with the Huskies at University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday. Much of their offense comes from drives to the basket, and you don't need to be John Wooden to surmise that Missouri's penetrators will have a hard time finishing at the rim with one of the best shot-blockers in college basketball history guarding it.
"He presents a big problem," Tigers coach Mike Anderson said. "He is going to be the last line of defense back there. He is quick. He is athletic. He is really progressing to be a tremendous player. That will be a challenge. But we won't change anything we do in terms of attacking. We are an attacking team."
Neither Anderson nor his players were too specific about how they planned to counter Thabeet's influence, but here's an educated guess:
DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons will attempt to pull Thabeet from the basket by shooting mid-range jumpers. If they knock down a few, Thabeet will be forced to step out and guard them, creating room for Tiller and others to attack the basket. The Tigers also hope that Connecticut will get caught up in their frenetic style of play, leading Thabeet to run faster and more often they he would like.
"We've got to get him up and down the court," Carroll said. "We've got to play to our advantage. Me and Leo, you know, are versatile big man. So, hopefully, we can get him running up and down the court and fatigue could be a big factor in this game."
Added: Lyon: "He is great at blocking shots. [But] we want to see how good he can slide his feet on defense as well."
The Tigers said they have a model for how to play Thabeet from having faced some of the bigger centers in the Big 12 Conference -- Kansas center Cole Aldrich was one they named -- but admitted it was a rough model.
"None of them is quite as long as him or as tall as him," Lyons said. "He is a defensive force. We are going to try to turn the offense to another level and turn our speed up to another level."
One player to watch closely on Saturday is Missouri shooter Matt Lawrence. He is the team's best three-pointer shooter, and if guards like Tiller are forced to abort drives, Lawrence could benefit.
Said Tiller: "Zaire [Taylor] and I are going to attack like we normally do but it might be a lot of driving and kicking to open teammates."