COLUMBIA — Missouri’s guards are starting to make an impression on Big 12 Conference opponents. The recognition has started with the Tigers’ first two foes: Texas and Iowa State. But if the guards continue to play as they did against the Longhorns, the praise will continue to grow.
On Saturday, Missouri beat then-No.12 Texas 97-84. A big key to that victory was that Texas’ two star guards, D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams, made only five of their combined 18 3-point attempts. For the season, the two are shooting about 40 percent from the arc.
On Monday, Big 12 coaches were available for questions in a teleconference, where MU’s guard play was discussed by coaches from Texas and Iowa State.
Texas assistant coach Ken McDonald filled in for head coach Rick Barnes during the teleconference. McDonald said he was impressed with the defense Missouri’s guards played against Abrams and Augustin. He said the biggest factor was the Tigers’ ability to avoid screens and force Augustin and Abrams into difficult shots.
“We lost an opportunity to play Texas basketball at Missouri,” McDonald said.
Like Texas, Iowa State lost its first conference game. The Cyclones fell 74-67 to Baylor on Saturday in Waco, Texas. Iowa State faced some experienced backcourt players, something Missouri also possesses. This was a concern for Iowa State coach Greg McDermott.
“We don’t have a lot of depth there (in the backcourt) nor do we have a lot of experience there, outside of Rahshon Clark and Wesley Johnson,” McDermott said. “Everyone else we are playing there is new. Certainly any team that has experienced guards concerns me, and that was the case with Baylor, and I feel the same way about Missouri. We’re going to have to play better in the guard court than we did Saturday down at Baylor.”
Missouri guard Keon Lawrence said he was pleased when told about McDonald and McDermott’s praise.
“Man, that feels real good,” Lawrence said. “We wasn’t getting a lot of recognition as guards. It wasn’t really every guard, it was Stefhon (Hannah), they knew about Stefhon. They really didn’t know what we had other than Stefhon. Now, I guess they are starting to see that we got some guards that can really play.”
Lawrence said the Tigers knew Saturday’s game was an opportunity for the guards to prove how good they are, since it provided a chance to play against two of the better guards in the conference.
Missouri’s balanced offensive attack also aided the Tigers’ win against Texas. Missouri coach Mike Anderson said much of that balance can be attributed to the play of his guards.
“Guys are sharing the basketball, and it starts with your guard play,” Anderson said. “Guard play is very, very important to what we do. So now it makes us a more balanced team when those guys are playing well.”
Guard Jason Horton has played particularly well in Missouri’s past two games. He set season highs for points in each contest. He scored 11 against UMKC on Jan. 8 and 16 against Texas on Saturday.
“I think he’s probably more relaxed,” Anderson said. “I think maturity has a lot to do with it too. He’s an important part of what we are doing, and I think right now he’s playing with a lot more confidence. I like the swagger he has right now.”
The scoring outburst from Horton was surprising because in the Tigers’ other 14 games this season, he had been more prone to pass than shoot. Anderson said he didn’t tell Horton anything different before the past two games. Anderson just told him to go play.
“You’ve got to be a threat if you’re on the floor,” Anderson said. “So quite naturally, you take what the defense gives you. He’s got to have the confidence to knock down shots. I think he’s worked on it hard enough. He does it in practice, so it’s just a matter of bringing it to the game. And he’s been doing it the last couple of games.”