Missouri’s win at Oklahoma on Saturday marked several accomplishments.
It was coach Quin Snyder’s first road victory against a ranked opponent. It was his first win at Lloyd Noble Arena, and it could become the turning point of the Tigers’ season.
Although all worthwhile accomplishments, they will mean nothing if the Tigers (7-6, 2-1 Big 12 Conference) are unable to put together a run of consistent play. The first step comes at 8 tonight, when Missouri hosts No. 16 Texas at Hearnes Center.
Snyder said his team’s 79-75 overtime win at Oklahoma will help the Tigers’ confidence but will not give them any guarantees against the Longhorns.
“It’s a huge boost for these guys, but it’s not going to help us beat Texas,” Snyder said.
Missouri guard Jimmy McKinney said defeating Oklahoma reaffirms the team’s belief in itself, which was missing during the Tigers’ early season struggles.
“We know how to win now,” McKinney said. We know everybody is back in this locker room happy and the confidence is up. Everything is just on a higher level now.”
Some of the Tigers’ biggest wins in recent years have led to disappointment. After beating No. 15 Illinois in 1999, Missouri lost its next three. The Tigers lost two of their next three after defeating No. 3 Kansas in 2001 and did the same after beating No. 3 Oklahoma last season.
“We’re anxious to play,” guard Josh Kroenke said. “We finally feel what it’s like to play as a unit and get a big win like this. I think at the same time, if we lose that focus … that’s our edge right now, that focus of playing together.”
The Longhorns are 5-0 against Snyder’s Tigers, including a 76-55 win in Austin last season.
After losing point guard T.J. Ford to the NBA, the Longhorns (11-2, 2-0) are looking for a steady contributor to run the offense. Coach Rick Barnes has used senior Royal Ivey, a natural shooting guard, and junior transfer Edgar Moreno there, with mixed results. They have combined for 102 assists to 40 turnovers, but neither has the impact Ford did.
Ivey’s adjustment is similar to Missouri’s attempts to fashion McKinney into a point guard.
“There’s always a transition period,” Snyder said. “(Although) we really haven’t had a point guard for a while, they had a really good one last year.”
Freshman forward P.J. Tucker has been the Longhorns’ top contributor, averaging 14.4 points and 7.5 rebounds to lead the team in both categories. Texas has won its past six games, including a 94-81 home win against Wake Forest on Jan. 13. The Longhorns’ losses came in neutral site games against Duke and Arizona.
The Longhorns struggled offensively against Nebraska on Saturday, holding on for a 63-61 win when Nebraska’s desperation 3-pointer was too strong. Tucker struggled, scoring two points on 1-of-6 shooting, but Ivey’s 13 points led Texas.
The Longhorns’ coaching staff is preparing its team with Missouri’s win at Oklahoma in mind.
“They’re coming off the win and will have a lot of confidence,” associate coach Frank Haith said. “We know they’re a tremendous team.”
Haith said Texas must limit Missouri’s seniors and freshman Linas Kleiza to get the win.
“We have to do a good job containing (Rickey) Paulding and (Arthur) Johnson,” he said. “And this freshman kid is impressive with how hard he plays and (his) inside presence. They’re the one team that I think is as deep as we are in the post. ”
Facing a strong Texas team will help Missouri focus on continuing its strong play, Johnson said.
“We’re 2-1 in the league so we can’t be nothing but happy about that,” Johnson said. “We’ve just got to keep it going. It helps any time Texas is coming into town.”