Tigers return home full of confidence

Saturday, November 29, 2008 | 4:11 p.m. CST; updated 9:26 p.m. CST, Saturday, November 29, 2008

COLUMBIA — Language barriers sometimes divide people, but traveling to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off last weekend helped bring the Missouri men's basketball team closer together.

None of the Tigers speak fluent Spanish, and they had to work together to communicate on the trip.

At the mall in San Juan, a group of players attempted to flirt with some local girls who didn't speak English. After a few moments of frustration, the players resorted to hand signals.

Their attempts at conversation proved futile, but the players bonded in the process.

"Being able to go somewhere else, and all of us not knowing how to speak Spanish, I think brought us together," junior guard J.T. Tiller said. "We had to rely on the high school Spanish 1-through-3 skills."

The Tigers spent most of their time in Puerto Rico either in their hotel or at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico, for the games. With seven new players on this year's squad, down time in the hotel gave the Tigers a chance to learn more about each other.

The trip to Puerto Rico was Missouri's second time going abroad this year. The Tigers traveled to Canada over Labor Day for three exhibition games.

"The Canadian trip, I thought it gave us an opportunity to bond, and I thought this one here gave us an opportunity to bond," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. "Away from the basketball, I think they got a chance to spend a lot of time together."

On the court, the Tigers benefited from the tournament. The win over then-No. 19 USC in the fourth-place game — after trailing by as many as 12 points — gave Missouri a confidence boost it hopes to carry into the rest of the season.

"Just learning from the experience is showing us that we can hang with the big teams and finish those close games," Tiller said.

Even the opening loss against Xavier, in which the Tigers squandered a late lead by missing eight of their last 10 free throws, showed Missouri it can compete with elite teams. Xavier went on to beat Memphis for the tournament title.

Missouri's defense forced Xavier into 22 turnovers, while the Tigers turned the ball over just seven times, tallying 18 assists.

"We didn't finish it off with the free-throw line," Anderson said. "But I think it's something we'll get better at with guys being in that position, playing against a team such as Xavier."

But Anderson doesn't want to let the big win over USC get to his players' heads.

"Hopefully we've had a little time where we can get the Puerto Rico trip out of us. That's over with," Anderson said. "With a young team like ours, that's the key. You've got to make sure they have short memories."

After a week off following the USC game, the Tigers return to action at 3 p.m. Sunday at Mizzou Arena against Oral Roberts, which appeared in the NCAA tournament each of the past three seasons. Missouri fans may remember when the Golden Eagles upset then-No. 3 Kansas during the 2006-2007 season.

Against Oral Roberts, Missouri will attempt to win its 30th consecutive nonconference home game, which would break the school record of 29 straight set between 1979 and 1983. Missouri's last nonconference home loss came against Sam Houston State in the opening game of the 2005-2006 season, when Quin Snyder was still coach.

Oral Roberts enters Sunday's contest with a 1-3 record. Missouri is 4-1.

"Every team is a good team," Anderson said. "It's all about us trying to get better. That's what we're trying to do every day, get better."

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