COLUMBIA — More than one hand would have been necessary to count the times Missouri men’s basketball coach Frank Haith referenced his team’s toughness, or lack thereof, after its loss to Georgia on Wednesday night.
For Haith, being “out-toughed” was what made the surprising defeat difficult to come to grips with.
Who: Auburn Tigers (8-4)
Where: Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Listen: Tiger Radio Network
“You’ve got to be tougher,” Haith said Wednesday. “That’s all Georgia did here today. They came in here and played with a great mindset and tremendous toughness.”
That was evident to his players, too.
“They were just tougher,” Johnathan Williams III said Friday afternoon. “They wanted it more. They went hard for loose balls.”
Haith vowed his team would be tougher.
They’ve since spent two days of practice working on achieving that. In hopes of preventing another lull Saturday afternoon at Auburn, the coaching staff increased the intensity of practice the last two days, Williams said. Rebounding and converting shots from around the basket — two toughness-related areas the Tigers struggled with against the Bulldogs — have been worked on.
So has the team’s overall effort level.
Haith said Wednesday night that he had sensed a letdown coming, that “we didn’t have the right look about us” in preparation for Georgia. His players are cognizant of that and expect to get a different result Saturday afternoon.
“If you play hard in practice, you’re going to play hard in a game,” Williams said.
Another weakness Haith pinpointed following Wednesday’s loss was the team’s lack of ball movement, particularly with Jordan Clarkson. The Tigers had more turnovers (11) than assists (10) for the 11th time in 14 games.
“Jordan’s got to pass the ball more,” Haith said. “He’s got to get that ball in and out of his hands. This first time tonight in league play, he’s got to move the ball and get it in and out of his hands. That ball stuck way too much tonight.”
Williams said there has been a greater emphasis on increased ball movement the past two days of practice.
Missouri will get to see if it has made progress Saturday afternoon, when it plays Auburn in its first Southeastern Conference road game. Auburn is led by guards Chris Denson (19.8 points per game) and KT Harrell (18.7). The duo is one of three sets of high major teammate tandems — Missouri’s Jabari Brown (18.4) and Clarkson (18.8) and Duke’s Rodney Hood (18.5) and Jabari Parker (21.4) are the others — to each average more than 18 points per game.
Auburn began conference play with a 65-62 loss at Ole Miss on Thursday. The teams' lone common opponent is Illinois. The Fighting Illini defeated both teams on neutral courts, beating Missouri 65-64 and Auburn 81-62.