If Missouri coach Quin Snyder could rid Tigers history of its struggles in 2003, he probably would.
Starting 2004 with a 76-56 win against Iowa on Saturday at Hearnes Center was a good start.
After an embarrassing home loss to Belmont on Tuesday, the victory came at the right time.
The No. 23 Tigers’ win snapped a three-game losing streak. It also gave them a winning record at 5-4.
“It’s been a serious time,” Snyder said. “The guys, they’ve made it serious, too. Some of the things we’ve been talking about and wanting to do, we did.”
Missouri held the Hawkeyes to only 18 field goals, the least the Tigers have allowed all season. They guarded the perimeter effectively for the first time, giving up only two 3-pointers.
The Tigers mishandled the ball only eight times. Their previous low for turnovers was 14 against Indiana.
“I could give you 20 things we need to work on, but none of those things make a difference if we don’t play with that type of passion,” Snyder said. “To me, that’s been the thing that has been frustrating and was gratifying tonight, to see those guys play for themselves, that hard for one another.”
Another milestone for the Tigers: They won without relying on senior leaders Rickey Paulding and Arthur Johnson, who combined for only 11 points. Johnson scored the pair’s only field goal.
Snyder said they led in other areas of the game, though.
Johnson fouled out with two minutes left and only four points in 13 minutes. Still, Snyder said his passion ignited the team’s second-half surge.
“Maybe he didn’t get a couple shots, but he was so energetic defensively,” Snyder said. “A few games ago AJ might have gotten distracted because he wasn’t scoring and not played in some of the other areas of the game. That’s not who he was tonight at all.”
The Tigers newfound resolve, though, does not come with any guarantees. Snyder’s collateral, his team’s season, is enough incentive for the Tigers.
“Unfortunately, sometimes you learn your best lessons through experience,” Snyder said. “I think the experience of failure in ‘03 was something that drove these guys.”
Practicing twice a day since Christmas, the Tigers are compensating for practice time lost during a demanding December road schedule.
In the preseason, predictions pegged the Tigers as one of the best team’s in the country. They’ve lost more games, though, than any other team in the Top 25.
“We thought a lot about a kind of dreamland,” Snyder said. “Final Four, picked us first in the Big 12, All-American.
“You’re mind needs to be focused on the task at hand. We’ve worked so much harder in practice than we’ve played in some of these games because our focus hasn’t been in the right place.”
It’s too early to call his team overrated, Snyder said. Yet the Tigers dug themselves a discouraging hole.
In overcoming their lowest point just before conference play begins Wednesday against Iowa State, the Tigers seemed to have realized playing like a Final Four-caliber team takes more than talking about it.
“There’s so much excitement about these guys and this season,” Snyder said. “You don’t just kind of ‘puff’ and it happens. You’ve got to really work at it. This experience shows some of our weaknesses.”