Kansas coach Bill Self offered a simple, yet thoughtful suggestion Monday night that could lead to many victories this season.
“There are going to be nights when we don’t shoot the ball well,” Self said. “In those games, we have to play great defensively.”
After Self’s Jayhawks defeated Missouri 65-56 on Monday night, the statement could have been directed at the Missouri coaching staff. The Tigers struggled to 36 percent shooting in the loss, countered by Kansas’ 52 percent in the second half and 44 percent for the game.
Except for their 83-70 loss Jan. 28 at Colorado, the Tigers’ defense has improved. Missouri has allowed 63 points per game in its past four contests, but the Tigers rank 11th in the Big 12 Conference in scoring defense through Monday at 71.1 points.
The defense has improved, but not enough to overcome Missouri’s mediocre shooting. The Jayhawks, the conference’s worst 3-point shooting team, outshot the Tigers, making 5-of-14 compared with Missouri’s 3-of-18. Despite ranking 10th in 3-point shooting, the Tigers average the most attempts in the conference, at 19.4 per game.
The Tigers (9-9, 4-4) continue to try to shoot through their struggles.
“We’re a very good shooting team,” senior guard Josh Kroen-ke said. “Our main focus is to get the ball inside to the big guys and that opens up our outside jump shots. When they don’t fall, it’s very frustrating.”
In the first half against Kansas, the Tigers were successful when they forced the ball to their big men and found offensive rebounds. Senior center Arthur Johnson led all scorers with nine points at halftime. Missouri struggled to reproduce that in the second half; Johnson made 2-of-5 attempts but was not a factor when Kansas pulled away in the final minutes.
Instead of continuing to do what brought them success in the first half, the Tigers became complacent against Kansas’ 2-3 zone, taking 12 3-pointers. Missouri coach Quin Snyder said his team is forced into 3-point attempts when opponents double the Tigers’ big men inside.
“We’re going to have to make some shots,” Snyder said. “I thought a lot of our looks were good looks. There were some times when we found the open guy and we just couldn’t make them pay for it.”
Missouri guard Jimmy McKinney continually took the ball to the basket against the Jayhawks but often struggled to finish. His 5-of-15 shooting overshadowed his 10 points, five rebounds and three assists, turning what could have been a strong game into an average one.
“We attacked the basket well, but we just couldn’t hit outside shots,” McKinney said. “We had the opportunity to win down the stretch, but we just couldn’t make shots.”
Snyder said Missouri’s second-half offensive inconsistency led to sloppy defense. Snyder often emphasizes how important scoring is to defense, suggesting that converting on offense provides an energy burst that carries over to the defensive end. When the Tigers are not scoring, they must find other motivations on defense.
“We just have to be tougher mentally when that’s not happening, so we don’t give them stuff on defense like that,” Snyder said.
Missouri certainly has other problems. Kansas guard Aaron Miles’ eight assists matched Missouri’s total Monday. Snyder has struggled to find a consistent contributor at shooting guard and freshman forward Linas Kleiza’s separated right shoulder severely limits Missouri’s interior depth.
When they struggle to make their shots, the Tigers’ other concerns look minor.
“We have to get better,” Snyder said. “We know what we’ve got right now and we know how we need to play…
“We just have to do a better job of getting the ball in the post and be able to make some shots.”
BIG 12 TICKETS AVAILABLE
Tickets for the men’s and women’s Big 12 tournaments are available through the Missouri ticket office.
The men’s tournament is March 11-14 at the America Airlines Center in Dallas. All-session tickets for the men’s tournament are $300 for the lower level and $210 for the upper level.
The women’s tournament is March 9-13 at Reunion Arena.
About 200 general admission tickets are available for Missouri’s nonconference matchup with UNLV at 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 15.
Call 884-PAWS for more information.