COLUMBIA — Georgia men's basketball coach Mark Fox shook his head as he scanned over the stat sheet.
As he sat next to the scorer’s table waiting to be interviewed on Georgia’s postgame radio show, Fox looked as deflated as his players appeared trying to get through Missouri’s defensive pressure in a 89-61 Tigers victory Saturday at Mizzou Arena. He put two fingers on his forehead as he continued to look at the numbers that showed how the Bulldogs became another victim of the Tigers' pressure: 23 turnovers, 16 Missouri steals.
“Teams come in here all the time thinking they’re prepared for our pressure,” Missouri’s Keith Ramsey said. “But when they get here, you can see people don’t even want the ball anymore.”
The Bulldogs hardly had the ball during a stretch in the opening minutes when Missouri (11-3) got steals on five straight possessions to erase Georgia's only lead of the game. Minutes later, with the Tigers up 20-9, Missouri’s Laurence Bowers, who had a game-high 23 points, stole an inbounds pass and put in an easy layup, prompting Fox to call a timeout less than 10 seconds after the previous timeout.
Georgia’s 10th turnover with 7:39 left in the first half led to the next timeout, with Missouri leading 29-13.
By halftime, Missouri had built a 46-28 advantage, and the Tigers stretched their lead to as much as 32 in the second half, which they opened with three straight steals. Their pressure led to a bunch of easy baskets and 35 points off turnovers in front of a season-high 13,336 at Mizzou Arena.
“I think this might have been one of our best performances defensively, with little lapses,” said Zaire Taylor, who was one of six Tigers with multiple steals. “But I think we minimized those.”
Georgia, like other Missouri opponents, prepared for the Tigers’ defensive pressure by practicing against six or seven defenders, Georgia forward Albert Jackson said.
“It’s definitely what we expected,” Jackson said.
But Georgia’s case confirms what other teams have learned: There is no way to fully simulate Missouri’s pressure in practice.
And once the pressure kicked in, there was nothing Georgia (7-5) could do to relieve it. Even during timeouts Fox called to stop the bleeding, he could only try to calm his players.
“There’s nothing new he can tell us because we practiced it and executed against it in practice,” Jackson said. “All he can tell us is to really calm yourself and play with some poise, and we didn’t play with any poise at all.”
The 23 turnovers were a season-high and forced Fox to call his final timeout with 10 minutes left in the game. But he admitted he couldn’t solve Georgia’s inability to beat Missouri’s pressure in a huddle that lasts just over a minute.
“There are some things you have to learn the hard way,” Fox said.
Georgia couldn’t take advantage of the one area it seemed to have an advantage: post play. Missouri didn't give the 6-foot-11 Jackson and 6-foot-10 Trey Thompkins, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer and rebounder, many chances to get the ball in the post. Thompkins picked up two quick fouls and finished with nine points, seven under his season average.
“I played him in the first half with two fouls, and I put him in a bad position," Fox said. "He got his third and it’s a tough night for him to be saddled with foul trouble the whole night. And in a game like this, we needed him.”
Georgia’s guards spent much of the game trapped between two or three Missouri defenders. Starting guards Dustin Ware and Ricky McPhee combined for 11 turnovers, and Georgia’s young backcourt struggled throughout the game.
“Sophomore point guard. Freshman backup. A very young perimeter group, and Missouri’s pressure bothered us,” Fox said.
In all sorts of ways. Several times, Missouri stole the ball before Georgia got it past halfcourt. But the Tigers’ trapping and quickness never allowed the Bulldogs to get into a flow when they did cross halfcourt.
“Actually when I look back at it, the pressure in the halfcourt hurt us more than the pressure in the press,” Jackson said.
With 9:21 left in the first half, eight Missouri steals already in the bag, Tigers’ guard Miguel Paul was called for a foul as he poked the ball away from a Georgia player.
Missouri coach Mike Anderson simply smiled as he walked along the bench. Hard for him to get upset at his player or about a call when the style of play he has preached for decades was working exactly like its supposed to.