Anger, frustration and disappointment have plagued Missouri’s season, but much of that could be forgotten with a win tonight.
That’s when the Tigers (9-8, 4-3 Big 12 Conference) travel to Kansas for their first meeting of the season with the rival Jayhawks at 8 p.m.
“They’re a good team, especially at home,” senior guard Rickey Paulding said. “I think if we continue to play defense and get the ball inside and out, we’ll have a chance.”
There might never be a good time to go into Allen Fieldhouse (the Jayhawks are 204-17 in the past 15 seasons at home). Playing the Jayhawks after a loss could mean more trouble. Missouri coach Quin Snyder said that he won’t give much thought to the Jayhawks’ loss and that Kansas doesn’t have a monopoly on being frustrated.
“We’ve got some experience in that regard,” Snyder said.
Although No. 15 Kansas (13-4, 5-1) may be fired up after their 68-61 loss at Iowa State, the Tigers’ seniors also will have plenty of motivation in their final trip to Lawrence, Kan. They have never beaten the Jayhawks on the road, a streak that includes a 105-73 loss on Jan. 28, 2002. Overall, the Tigers have lost four straight at Kansas.
“Coming into any conference, you always want to get a win on opposing team’s home court, especially against your rival,” senior forward Travon Bryant said. “It’s definitely one of those things you look forward to.
“Us seniors have a chip on our shoulders because last year we had a game we could have won, but it slipped away. We know it’s going to be a special time.”
Earlier this season, the Tigers’ seniors had a chance to end a career-long losing streak against an opponent, but it didn’t go well.
The Tigers entered the Braggin’ Rights game with Illinois on Dec. 23, 2003, with a 0-3 record against the Fighting Illini but could not get a win. Illinois stormed to a 21-point first-half lead and then withstood a furious Tiger rally. The Illini won 71-70.
Bryant said the same motivation applies to the Kansas game.
When they played at Kansas last season, the Tigers committed 20 turnovers, 14 on Kansas steals, and the Jayhawks won 76-70 on Feb. 3, 2003. Kirk Hinrich scored a game-high 24 and stole the ball four times, while Nick Collison had 22 to lead Kansas. Hinrich, who made 10-of-13 shots against the Tigers, and Collison are rookies in the NBA this season.
Former guard Ricky Clemons had 19 points to lead the Tigers, who had four scorers in double figures.
The Tigers also have a five-game regular season losing streak against Kansas. The most recent Tigers’ victory against the Jayhawks was in the semifinals of last year’s the Big 12 Tournament in Dallas. Paulding scored 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting to help the Tigers to a 68-63 win March 15, 2003.
Bryant said a win against Kansas could pull the Tigers out of a funk, in which they have alternated wins and losses since Jan. 3.
As the stretch has progressed, the Tigers’ play has improved, but some breakdowns have cost the Tigers victories.
“We’re in a position right now where I think we’re playing better basketball,” Snyder said. “We took a step back against Colorado. We’ve played better defense at home. We’ve got to be able to manufacture that same type of defensive effort on the road and have the same ploys and sense of purpose on offense on the road. We’re going to need a great effort in both those areas to beat Kansas.”
The Tigers won 62-53 against Kansas State on Saturday. Although they did not shoot the ball well, the Tigers’ defense held down the Wildcats. For much of the game the Wildcats had more turnovers than field goals. The Wildcats hit two of their final four shots to finish with 17 field goals and 16 turnovers.
“(Saturday) when things weren’t going our way, we just did it on the defensive end,” Paulding said. “When we’ve won games and played good, we’ve done it on the defensive end and keep throwing the ball to (senior center Arthur Johnson). That’s just our formula right now.”
Tonight’s game will be a reunion of sorts for Missouri’s Thomas Gardner, a freshman guard. He played high school basketball with Kansas’ Aaron Miles and Michael Lee at Jefferson High in Portland, Ore. Lee and Gardner are cousins.
Gardner said that, with his family also in attendance, the game should be a great experience.
Keith Langford leads the Jayhawks in scoring with 17.2 per game, which puts him third in the Big 12, and Wayne Simien scores 15.4 per game.