Time might be running out for Missouri.
For a team some predicted to go to the Final Four, moral victories can mean only so much.
The Tigers (7-7, 2-2 Big 12 Conference) will need to string together a stretch of wins if they want make a move in the Big 12, and when they host Nebraska at 5 p.m. Saturday, it might be the time to start it. It is the first of three winnable games.
“I don’t think we’ve had much of a margin (of error) for a while,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “We chose to play a difficult schedule, and there’s a lot of explanations for losing a few games early. That’s behind us. We’re 2-2 in league. We got Nebraska coming here, and I think we’re playing better basketball. I’m glad we’re playing closer to where I think we can be.”
After Nebraska, the Tigers play at Colorado on Wednesday and home against Kansas State on Jan. 31.
Although improved, Nebraska (11-4, 1-3) has yet to prove it belongs in the upper half of the conference standings. The Huskers opened Big 12 play with consecutive losses to Iowa State, Colorado and Texas. A 76-47 win against Baylor on Wednesday stopped the losing streak.
The Huskers have also had trouble competing with the Tigers. MU has won five straight, and Snyder has won 8-of-9 matchups with Nebraska.
The most recent matchup came in the first round of the 2003 Big 12 Tournament with the Tigers winning 70-61 on March 13. The Huskers’ early hot shooting produced a 22-4 lead, but the Tigers methodically whittled the deficit away. Senior center Arthur Johnson dominated inside, scoring 18 and grabbing 12 rebounds.
After alternating winning and losing in their past six games, the Tigers need to duplicate the energy and effort they used Tuesday night in an 75-69 overtime loss to Texas. The Tigers held the Longhorns to 61 points in regulation.
“We played hard,” Johnson said. “We played with passion and intensity on the defensive end that we need to play with. Hopefully, that can carry over to the next game and the rest of the season.”
Accompanying the inconsistent play of the Tigers has been difficulty to win at Hearnes Center. With a loss, the Tigers will have four home losses for the first time since Snyder’s first year as coach, 1999-2000.
The Huskers’ progress can be seen in their nonconference results. Their 10-1 nonconference record includes a 17-point victory at Minnesota on Dec. 29 and home wins against Arizona State and Tennessee.
“Everybody gets better every year,” Missouri forward Travon Bryant said. “Obviously, Nebraska took Texas down to the wire in Austin. We know we’re going to be in for a fight. Every game is a fight in the Big 12.”
Guard Jake Muhleisen, who missed part of this past season because of a broken left hip, missed a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer against Texas in a 63-61 loss.
The Huskers have reeled off five-game winning streaks twice this season. They began 5-0 before losing at Creighton 61-54 on Dec. 10, but the Huskers then went on their second winning streak before losing at Iowa State 89-74 on Jan. 10.
Guard Nate Johnson, who comes off the bench, leads the team in scoring with 12.5 per game. Muhleisen has played solidly also well, making 42 percent of his 3-pointers.
Nebraska’s biggest improvement has come on defense, for they allow opponents a conference-best 36 percent shooting. Only seven of their 15 opponents have scored more than 60 points, but the Huskers have lost four of those games.
The Huskers have excelled defending the 3-point line as well, which does not bode well for the shooting woes of the Tigers. Against Texas, the Tigers made 2-of-15 3-point attempts.
“Our team in general, I think we’re better shooters than we’ve shot so far,” Snyder said. “I think we’re playing the right way, but I think you get a boost when you see the ball go in the basket. That hasn’t happened where we’ve had a couple guys get on a roll. … If we can get that and continue to defend, I think that will really help us.”
LEGENDS TO BE RECOGNIZED: At halftime of Saturday’s game, Missouri will lower five of its retired jerseys from the rafters of Hearnes Center.
The ceremony will honor Jon Sundvold, Doug Smith, Willie Smith, Steve Stipanovich and Bill Stauffer. They will be raised to the rafters of the new arena after its completion, which is scheduled for Oct. 1.
The sixth retired number inside Hearnes Center belongs to former coach Norm Stewart. Stewart’s ceremony will take place at halftime of the Iowa State game on Feb. 18.