Missouri men's basketball team looks to improve defense against Vanderbilt

Tuesday, December 7, 2010 | 7:32 p.m. CST; updated 9:40 a.m. CST, Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli, a 6-foot-11 center, is scoring 13.3 points per game this season for the Commodores.

COLUMBIA — The Missouri men’s basketball team is struggling on defense. The Tigers have given up 191 points in their past two games, an 111-102 overtime loss to Georgetown and a 83-80 win over Oregon.

The Tigers will need to change that against Vanderbilt on Wednesday night at Mizzou Arena. Vanderbilt enters the game averaging 79.4 points per game. That includes games against Nebraska, West Virginia and North Carolina.

Wednesday's game

Vanderbilt Commodores (7-1)
at No. 15 Missouri Tigers (6-1)

WHEN: 8 p.m.
Mizzou Arena
KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM

The Commodores have made a 3-pointer in 770 consecutive games, a streak that began 21 seasons ago when the 3-point line first came into existence in college basketball. The Commodores are one of only three schools (UNLV and Princeton are the others) to have made at least one 3-pointer in every game since the 3-point line was implemented for the 1986-87 season.

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One of Vanderbilt's main scoring threats is center Festus Ezeli, who stands 6 feet, 11 inches tall. That is 3 inches taller than Missouri starting forwards Laurence Bowers and Ricardo Ratliffe. Ezeli earned Southeastern Conference Player of the Week honors after averaging 19 points and 6.5 rebounds last week in wins against Western Kentucky and Belmont.

"He’s a great inside presence so we just got to go after him,” Bowers said. “We got to box him out, try to get him in foul trouble and know that he’s a shot blocker.”

Through eight games this season, Ezeli is scoring 13.3 points per game.

"He's a big concern," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. "Of all their guys, we have to keep him off the board. Not only is he a big target, but he's scoring well for them."

Missouri sophomore guard Michael Dixon Jr. said Missouri will need to to double-team Ezeli when he has the ball in the paint. Meanwhile, junior guard Marcus Denmon said that he and the other Tigers point guards must play the high-pressure defense that the Missouri basketball team has come to be known for in order to stop Vanderbilt's guards from getting the ball to Ezeli. Anderson agreed with Denmon and said that Missouri must play a high-tempo game to wear Ezeli down.

"He's going to present a problem, but one of the ways you deal with that is to get the game going up and down the floor and get our forwards and versatility involved," Anderson said.

But Ezeli won’t be Missouri’s only challenge on Wednesday night. Missouri will also need to stop the 3-point shot, something the Tigers have struggled to do in their past couple games.

In the first half of Georgetown's victory over the Tigers on Nov. 30, the Hoyas made 15 3-pointers. In Missouri’s next game against Oregon, Missouri held a 44-24 halftime lead, but Oregon shot 58.3 percent from 3-point range in the second half and almost pulled off the comeback.

 “(Vanderbilt’s) a team that shoots the ball well, and we haven’t done a good job guarding the perimeter, so that’s going to be a big task for us,” Anderson said. “We just got to be there and make guys put the ball on the floor. If they’re making it from 20-feet out, you make them shoot it from 25-feet out. There’s no secret to it. I just think we need to take a lot more pride in our defense.”

The Commodores and Tigers are shooting about the same from 3-point range this season at just under 38 percent.

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