A lot of big games await him, but Missouri freshman Thomas Gardner is especially looking forward to Feb. 2 and March 7.

Missouri plays Kansas on those days, and it will be Demo against Demos, as Gardner will face former Jefferson High teammates Aaron Miles and Michael Lee.

Going against Miles and Lee in big-time college games won't be the same as summer showdowns at PCC-Sylvania or running the pavement at Woodlawn Park near Northeast 15th Avenue and Dekum Street.

But Gardner, a 6-4 shooting guard, is likely to see plenty of action off coach Quin Snyder's bench. He has earned playing time and respect in practice. 'Thomas never stops running,' Missouri senior Josh Kroenke says.

Gardner had a game-high 17 points in a recent intrasquad scrimmage, although he scored just five points on 2-for-8 shooting in 45 minutes in two exhibition games. He knows that how much playing time he gets will depend on how well he plays defense Ñ as is the case with most true freshmen.

'I could get away with being lackadaisical in high school,' he says. 'I knew I'd have to defend here.'

Guarding Miles, Arizona's Salim Stoudamire and former Oregon guard David Jackson in summertime hoops prepared him. Miles has influenced Gardner greatly Ñ the two grew up in the same neighborhood and played at Woodlawn Park many times.

Gardner played sparingly on Jeff's varsity in 2001, the year Miles and Lee were seniors. He led the Demos in scoring the last two years, averaging 25 points, seven rebounds and five assists as a senior.

The Tigers like his 3-point range.

'Scoring is a natural ability for me. I can score at will,' he says. 'By playing defense, it helps my offense, makes it even better.'

Gardner chose the Tigers over Kansas, Oklahoma and Connecticut, and he doesn't miss home. 'I wouldn't trade it for anything,' he says. 'I love the university, I get the chance to play on national TV and play on a great team.'

Missouri, ranked No. 5, could challenge Kansas for the Big 12 Conference title and go to the Final Four. The Tigers have four seniors in Ricky Paulding, Arthur Johnson, Travon Bryant and Kroenke.


Missouri opens Saturday at Oakland University in Detroit. The Tigers play Gonzaga in Seattle on Dec. 13. É The Feb. 2 Missouri-Kansas game at Lawrence, Kan., will be live at -6 p.m. on ESPN. The March 7 game in Columbia, Mo., will be live at -11 a.m. on CBS.

Lewis & Clark (2-1), which graduated good big men in Colin Oriard and Kristofer Speier, beat Lewis-Clark State 86-68 and MacMurray 86-70 last weekend. Forward John Mietus, back from spending last year studying abroad in Italy, had 49 points and 26 rebounds. Tommy Magnuson, who led Tigard High to the Class 4A title in 2002, had 33 points and 14 rebounds. Sharpshooting guard Danny Winchester, who received an extra year of eligibility, had 26 points, but he uncharacteristically hit less than 50 percent of his 3-pointers (5 of 11). A key for coach Bob Gaillard's Pioneers will be who runs the team with point guard Nate Kabanuck injured and Josh Green studying abroad. The Pioneers open their home schedule Dec. 9 against Cascade.

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