Monday, January 17, 2011

Tigers get back on track

Over three days, Missouri played two games with divergent results that still showed one thing: this Tiger team appears to be ready to compete in the big matchups in the coming months. One game was Saturday’s overtime loss at Texas A&M, a frustrating game that could’ve been won but instead slipped away. The other was Monday’s home win over Kansas State, a righting of the ship after a 1-2 start to conference play.

The bitter feelings after the A&M loss were in contrast to the satisfaction (relief?) after defeating Kansas State, but Mizzou’s performance in both games was another indicator that this could be a very good team.

Texas A&M was riding the longest single-season winning streak in school history, and the Aggies’ Reed Arena can be very challenging. Throw in that Missouri coach Mike Anderson is 0-4 against the Aggies and that A&M’s bruising half-court physicality is in some ways kryptonite to Mizzou’s up-tempo style, and it’s clear this was a tough matchup for the Tigers.

Missouri still jumped out to an early lead, fell behind, then rallied to take a lead late. The Tigers led by four with under a minute to play, but missed free throws and turnovers in crucial situations doomed the Tigers. Still, losing 91-89 in overtime at a hot top-15 school isn’t a disaster. Also, Ricardo Ratliffe was a force inside, with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Phil Pressey, working back to 100 percent after a hand injury, exploded for 16 points and made all four of his threes.

Even still, Mizzou was in a perilous spot, at 1-2 with an equally hungry 1-2 Kansas State team coming in just two days after the A&M game. The Tigers sprinted to a 15-point halftime lead. When Kansas State cut the lead to three, at 58-55, Missouri’s frantic pressure defense lived up to its reputation, forcing turnovers on six of the next seven Wildcat possessions, with the other possession being a missed Kansas State free throw on a one-and-one. That’s seven Kansas State possessions without a field goal attempt in the most crucial juncture of the game, which Missouri won 75-59.

Most every story has two sides, and it must be noted Kansas State is struggling to score right now, not counting games against woeful Texas Tech. The Wildcats really don’t seem to have many reliable ballhandlers beyond Pullen, and Missouri feasted on that. Even with the current issues Kansas State has, Missouri forcing 23 turnovers while limiting the Wildcats to 8 assists is an outstanding defensive performance.

And so No. 13 Missouri (16-3, 2-2 in Big 12 play) is now 0-2 on the road and 2-0 at home in conference play. In the early going, it appears about every Big 12 game will be tough, except the home gimmes with Oklahoma and Texas Tech. It’s tempting to say the 2-2 start may have already ended Missouri’s conference title hopes, especially with Kansas continuing to run roughshod over the entire conference, as they are prone to do.

But it’s still early, and the last few games have been encouraging for Tiger fans, even if the Texas A&M game slipped away.

Next Missouri hosts Iowa State at 8 p.m. on Saturday on ESPNU. First-year coach Fred Hoiberg has the Cyclones playing better than anyone expected, but Missouri's sizable talent advantage should lead to a Tiger win, especially in Mizzou Arena, where Missouri has won 17 of its last 19 Big 12 games.

No comments:

Post a Comment