COLUMBIA – At first, Mike Anderson tried hard to sell his story.
Acting as the hold-me-accountable coach, Anderson said it was his fault the Missouri men’s basketball team got pushed around by Texas A&M, which snapped the Tigers’ 32-game winning streak at Mizzou Arena on Wednesday night.
While he admitted he was disappointed that his team let the Aggies outmuscle Missouri to an 18-rebound advantage, Anderson said he goofed in his rotation of players.
“I just didn’t have the right people at the right time in the game,” he said.
But Anderson eventually got the story right, dishing out his strongest criticism to date of the Tigers’ rebounding crisis.
“For those guys to get two rebounds and play 48 minutes between them, that’s not acceptable,” he said.
Those guys are Keith Ramsey and Justin Safford, the Tigers’ starting forwards whose names disappeared from the rebounding column as Missouri blew a 10-point second-half lead.
Ramsey said Anderson also told him and Safford they need to do a lot better than just one rebound.
“He told us we need to be more physical," Ramsey said. "A lot of stuff he said, but we don’t need to go there with that. We just know we got to rebound.”
Without help from Ramsey and Safford, fellow big man Laurence Bowers became the Tigers’ only effective body inside against Texas A&M’s Bryan Davis and David Loubeau, who are both similar in size to Missouri’s forwards, frequently deemed undersized. Bowers, who leads the team with 5.9 rebounds a game, did almost all the work on his way to 10 rebounds.
"It’s something that hadn’t been a problem all year long, and all of a sudden now … there’s got to be a sense of urgency when you get into league play," Anderson said.
Anderson's right that rebounding wasn't as much of a problem for the Tigers earlier in the season, when they got away with poor rebounding against weaker teams, as it has become during Big 12 play. Missouri has rarely rebounded at a high level and ranks second-to-last among conference teams in rebounding margin.
Guard Zaire Taylor acknowledged that the Tigers did themselves in by failing to rebound. But he refused to point fingers at Ramsey and Safford and declared that Missouri’s rebounding strategy needs to involve the entire team.
“You can’t get outrebounded the way we did and expect to win the game,” Taylor said. “We were fortunate enough to be in a game like that … That’s a recipe for disaster when you constantly let teams outrebound you.
I think that it’s time for me and J.T. (Tiller) to start taking more responsibility for that, hold ourselves more accountable. And Kimmie (English) and Marcus (Denmon) as well. I feel like we got some of the bigger guards in the conference, athletics guys that can jump, they can rebound too. Our big guys are fighting, I see them, they’re fighting. But we got to take accountability ourselves.”
Getting rebounds from guards is more important for Missouri than most teams because its forwards often wind up away from the basket because of the Tigers’ defensive pressure.
“You always feel bad when you know you have one rebound … but I don’t see it as just the forwards’ thing to do," Ramsey said. "Our system is the whole team rebounds.”
But Ramsey and Safford are still two of the biggest bodies on the team. Ramsey averages 5.5 rebounds a game, while Safford averages 4.1. Not exceptional numbers, but better than the one-rebound performance each turned in Wednesday.
Safford’s case might be the most enigmatic. At times, he shows a mean streak and turns into a rebounding machine, like when he grabbed 11 rebounds against Nebraska. But more often than not, Safford seems to hold back, like Wednesday, when he played his sixth game in which he managed just one or two rebounds.
"Justin's got to come with the mindset, toughness every game," Ramsey said. "Don't worry about foul trouble. Don't worry about what's going to happen. Just go out there and do it."
Anderson has now made his message clear, and Ramsey knows it's time to do something about it.
“We accepted it. We know that," he said. "We’re just going to do better.”