Missouri coach Frank Haith kept encouraging Alex Oriakhi, telling them he had more to give. The senior center has been playing like there's no tomorrow for a while now.
"Every day I keep telling myself my days are numbered, so I keep reminding myself, 'How do you want to be remembered?'" Oriakhi said. "And I think about that every day, that one game and you're done. All I know is I'm going to leave it all out there on the floor."
The 6-foot-9, 255-pound Oriakhi is averaging close to a double-double and shooting a career best 63 percent for Missouri (23-10), which faces Colorado State (25-8) in the NCAA tournament on Thursday in Lexington, Ky. He missed just one of 14 shots in two SEC tournament games.
He's the first Missouri player to average eight or more and shoot 70 percent-plus from the free throw line since Doug Smith in 1990-91.
"Man, he's just bought in," Haith said. "I can say those things but just look at his numbers, they speak for themselves what the young man's done over the last half of the year."
Missouri needs Oriakhi to step up in a matchup of two of the NCAA's best rebounding teams. Colton Iverson and Pierce Hornung are each averaging nearly 10 boards for Colorado State, which earned an at-large bid after losing in the Mountain West semifinals. Missouri has outrebounded all but six opponents, with Laurence Bowers averaging six and reserves Earnest Ross and Tony Criswell adding about five apiece.
"I think it's going to be a great test for us as far as rebounding," Oriakhi said. "Like I've always said, rebounding comes down to heart and will, so it's going to test us."
Oriakhi played on the 2011 Connecticut national championship team and transferred after the Huskies went on NCAA probation, joining former AAU teammate Phil Pressey and choosing Missouri over Kentucky. He's made his lone season count for the Tigers, throwing his weight around on the court and quickly becoming a leader off it.
"Mizzou, it's definitely been special to me. I feel like I've been going here for four years," Oriakhi said. "As far as the coaching, the fans, it's definitely been a great experience and I knew I made the right choice when I committed."
Oriakhi is part of one of the most productive transfer classes in the country, with Haith opting to bring in experienced players after losing stalwarts Marcus Denmon, Kim English and Ricardo Ratliffe.
missed the entire season with a knee injury. The transfers had an additional hole to fill when senior guard Michael Dixon, among the nation's best sixth men last year, left after two sexual assault claims became public.
Oriakhi has more than done his part to fill the void.
Page 2 of 2 - "Honestly, I think Alex has really taken a big part of our leadership as the year's gone on," Haith said. "I think he's a guy that's really been our vocal guy that has been more playing with a sense of urgency. Not to say anything about Laurence or Phil, but I think Alex's really stepped up. He's a guy that I think we're relying on to be that locker room guy."
Over time, Haith also convinced Oriakhi he is a scorer.