COLUMBIA — The first portion of the Big 12 Conference schedule seemed quite favorable for Missouri.
The Tigers had two of their toughest opponents, Texas and Kansas, at home, and three beatable opponents, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Colorado, on the road.
So far, the only thing that’s gone right for MU is a win over then-No. 12 Texas. The Tigers then lost to Iowa State, Kansas and, on Wednesday, to Texas Tech.
Saturday’s game against Colorado is now a “must win” for Missouri (11-8, 1-3 Big 12).
“I think every game is a must win for us now,” junior guard Matt Lawrence said. “We are in no position to take games off, we shouldn’t be in that mindset anyway. It starts with winning in the Big 12, so we need to get rolling and start to win on the road.”
On paper, Colorado should be one of MU’s more winnable road games, but nothing is certain when Tigers are on the road.The team has lost all five road games and two of three games on neutral courts.
It also doesn’t help when the other team is shooting twice as many free throws. In Missouri’s last three games, all losses, opponents have been to the line 37, 45 and 50 times respectively. In those games, Missouri went to the line 15, 22 and 15 times.
“I think when we’re out pressing and getting after them, when they finally break out of the press, the half court set is when we get out of position a little bit or we try to go for steals," Lawrence said "We run the shot clock down, now we need to start making them take bad shots rather then put them on the line.”
Colorado (9-9, 1-3 Big 12) is eleventh in the conference. But under new coach Jeff Bzdelik, the Buffaloes have already surpassed last year’s win total of seven. Senior guard Richard Roby, who has been linked to an early exit to the NBA draft in each of his seasons at Colorado, is averaging 18.7 points per game.
“We know they are a good team and shoot the ball well,” Lawrence said. “Hopefully we get ready for them Saturday.”
Lawrence also knows the Coors Events Center, Colorado’s home arena. Despite a league low 4,342 average attendance, Colorado does have a home court advantage.
The Tigers won 79-65 at Colorado last year but lost the previous four games in Boulder, Colo., before that.
“They don’t bring out as many fans, but they do have a very good following — a student section that really gets after them,” Lawrence said. “The ones that do come they are always very up for the game. They make noise; it’s a strange place to play.”
Strange or not, Missouri risks going into a hole in the conference with a 1-4 start, and the road games don’t get any easier afterthe trip to Boulder.
“On the road there is a fine line,” Lawrence said. “And you sort of have to step over it and stop letting free throws determine if you win or lose.”