Time to make move

Although it’s only January, Missouri needs a run to guarantee a berth in the postseason.
Friday, January 16, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:29 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

The clock is ticking.

At 6-6, the Missouri basketball team’s season’s downward spiral is getting closer to rock bottom.

“We should be afraid because that should drive us,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “If you’re not confident in who you are, we need to find out who you are. To me, that’s where you find it, and we’ve got to find it.”

It’s a rare occasion when Missouri basketball fans start worrying if the Tigers will qualify for any postseason play in mid-January.

Winning at least 11 of their next 16 games before the league tournament would give the Tigers their best chance at an NCAA Tournament appearance. That means the Tigers can drop only five more, even more of an unlikelihood in the Big 12 Conference.

Snyder expected the Tigers’ tough nonconference schedule to build momentum before facing a formidable conference field. Instead, the Tigers struggled to foster anything consistent.

Tiger guard Jimmy McKinney said his team can’t use the schedule as a scapegoat.

“It’s done everything it’s supposed to do, but on the flip side, we’re beating ourselves,” he said. “It’s going to help us, our schedule is going to help us for the Big 12.

“I wouldn’t say we were less confident, but I think we feel, I wouldn’t say down on ourselves, but we feel we need to make a change and a run right now or our season will be down the drain.”

Senior forward Travon Bryant said the Tigers know it doesn’t get any easier in Big 12 play, but it could be the best thing for this troubled team.

“We’re a confident team,” Bryant said. “We know that we’re playing against tough competition. In Big 12 play, you play against the same type thing, but the learning process has definitely been grueling. We’ve got to start pulling some of these out because time is running out.”

If playing No. 19 Syracuse at home wasn’t tough enough, the Tigers head to Norman, Okla., on Saturday. They face No. 11 Oklahoma at noon at Lloyd Noble Center.

Paulding said the Tigers’ could end their slump if they played 40 minutes with the same intensity they showed most of the first half against Syracuse.

“It’s not about X’s and O’s or what coaches want,” Paulding said. “It’s just about competing and doing what it takes to win the game.

That’s easy to say in the sanctity of the Hearnes Center locker room.

After back-to-back road losses to Connecticut and Oklahoma State, it’s clear the No. 11 Sooners aren’t invincible. Both losses came with a margin of defeat greater than 20 points.

Still, there’s never a good time to play in Norman.

If the Tigers don’t put everything on the line for all of 40 minutes, the hungry Sooners will gladly use a home win to end their recent skid.

“It does not get any easier,” MU guard Josh Kroenke said. “Going to Oklahoma, it’s a very tough place to play. We’ve gotten kicked there pretty good, two times, in my career. There’s definitely an enormous sense of urgency, especially the way our season has gone so far.”

Snyder is winless in Norman, and the Sooners edged the Tigers 49-47 for its third consecutive conference title last year.

The Tigers could use a few pointers from the Cowboys’ 77-56 win Wednesday night.

They jumped to an early lead and never trailed. They led by double digits most of the game.

Coach Eddie Sutton said the Cowboys’ trademark defense was the key. Unfortunately for the Tigers, their defense has been their signature weakness.

At least Missouri has its health.

Oklahoma sophomore Kevin Bookout, the Sooners’ fourth-leading scorer and best rebounder, reinjured a severely sprained right shoulder. He’s expected to play Saturday, but he hasn’t been in practice since Jan. 3.

Bookout’s injury could give the Tigers an opportunity to dominate post play.

For the Tigers, this trip to Norman is more crucial than any other. Paulding summed up every Tigers’ heavy thoughts: They need to put everything on the line against the Sooners.

“That’s definitely a game that we need to win,” he said. “We can’t come out of Norman with a loss. Whatever we have to do to win that game, that’s what we have to do.”

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