COLUMBIA — While most basketball players urge their coach to start them, forward Laurence Bowers is the opposite.
Bowers is more comfortable starting Missouri men’s basketball games on the bench. Rather than treat the bench as a brief rest before going on the court, Bowers treats it as a school. Once the opening tip is tossed, his class is in session. Barely taking his eyes off the court, it is a place where he can sit and learn about his opponents.
Missouri (22-8, 10-5 Big 12) vs. No. 2 Kansas (28-2, 14-1 Big 12)
WHEN: 1 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
TV: KRCG/Channel 13
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM,
SERIES: Kansas leads 168-94. Last meeting 84-65 Kansas win Jan. 25 in Lawrence, Kan.
MISSOURI KEY: Attack Aldrich: Kansas’ 6-11 center Cole Aldrich dominated the Tigers in January. He collected seven blocks and forced the Tigers away from the basket just standing under the hoop. Trying to go around him usually results in a swatted shot. Missouri needs to attack Aldrich.
ABOUT KANSAS: Coach: Bill Self, 7th season
LAST SEASON: 27-8
(14-2 Big 12)
THE SKINNY: The Jayhawks were expected to contend for the national title and have been the nation’s best team for most of the season. Kansas already clinched the Big 12 title and probably has a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed locked up.
KANSAS KEY: Slow Down Tiller: Missouri’s J.T. Tiller has started to use his speed to blow by defenders and get to the basket for layups, highlighted by a season-high 17-point game Tuesday at Iowa State. If Kansas decides to cut Tiller off, it should lead to open shots for his teammates.
WATCH FOR Sherron Collins: The Jayhawks’ senior guard leads the team with more than 15 points and 4.3 assists per game. He scored just six points against Missouri in the teams’ first meeting this year, reason to believe Collins will be more involved in Kansas’ scoring attack this time.
Tickets sold out
“You get to see what’s going on, where all the soft spots are in the other team’s defense,” Bowers said. “And the starters on the other team wear down. You come in fresh so you kind of have an advantage energy wise.”
The system has worked for Bowers throughout most of the season. The sophomore has been scoring the third most points on the team, and Missouri coach Mike Anderson said he has been his most consistent player. Bowers has played as many minutes as a starter coming off the bench behind forwards Justin Safford and Keith Ramsey.
However, the dynamic changed when Safford tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Feb. 24 against Colorado. The injury thrust Bowers into the starting rotation, and away from the safe haven of his school, he has struggled to adapt to his new role.
“When you start, it is pretty much learn as you go,” Bowers said. “I guess I’m in kind of a little slump right now, but I’m going to work my way out of it.”
This isn’t the first time Bowers has started. Anderson put him in the starting role earlier in the season, but he struggled with consistency. Starting for the first time in conference play Saturday, Bowers looked uncomfortable. He was held scoreless at No. 6 Kansas State, and took 10 shots to score seven points against Iowa State. Anderson said Bowers’ struggles come from adjusting to a new role.
“I don’t think it’s a funk, I think it’s just a role change,” Anderson said. “It’s a little different when you go out there in the beginning and you got guys chasing you. It’s just making an adjustment that’s all.”
Bowers said he thinks it is more of a mental issue. With the injury of Safford, the team was left with just three forwards with playing experience. Bowers said he has been trying too hard to replace Safford, rather than playing relaxed.
“Now that I’ve been starting, it’s been like ‘dang what can I do now. Since we are missing Justin, I’ve got do this, I’ve got to do that,’” Bowers said. “And try to help the team out in more ways, and it’s kind of been affecting my play.”
However, with two games under his belt, Bowers said he is getting the hang of the starting role. Bowers will be important for the Tigers when they play No. 2 Kansas on Saturday at Mizzou Arena. In January in Lawrence, Kan., Missouri struggled to score inside against 6-foot 10-inch Cole Aldrich in its 84-65 loss. A strong performance by Bowers will be needed to anchor an already thin forward position. Ramsey said he thinks Bowers will be back to normal Saturday.
“I think he’s under a lot of pressure really,” Ramsey said. “He’s going to be OK. He’s a good player, so he’s going to come out and play a big time game Saturday.”
Even though Bowers has been more effective coming off the bench, Anderson said he is going to stick with him in the starting role.
“Laurence will be fine,” Anderson said. “But the best is yet to come with him.”