Missouri senior Arthur Johnson is known for swatting down more shots than any other Missouri player, and his game staple is pounding the ball in the post.
Patience, however, isn’t one of his distinguishing traits.
After the Tigers let Monday’s game at Kansas slip away, time is slipping from the Tigers’ season and Johnson’s college career. Johnson said he is itching to get back on the road and back in the win column.
“If we can really get it going, we need to do it now because it will be too late in a minute,” Johnson said. “It’s just time to get it started. Hopefully it will start this Saturday in Nebraska. We go down there with all intentions of winning.”
An early February trip to Lincoln, Neb., never looked so good to Johnson and the Tigers (9-9, 4-4 Big 12 Conference). After the heart-wrenching loss to Kansas on Monday, the Tigers have a chance to rebound against the Cornhuskers at 12:30 p.m. at Devaney Center.
Missouri coach Quin Snyder isn’t thinking about Monday anymore, and he is not considering the what ifs of postseason play.
“I think that is the most effective way to win as many as you can,” Snyder said. “You bite off one piece and chew the hell out of it. It does you no good to look beyond where you are right now. Nebraska is a tough place to win, and they are playing good basketball.”
Tigers look for second win vs. Cornhuskers
On the road for the third time in four games, the Tigers aren’t taking their second meeting with Nebraska (11-7, 1-6) lightly.
The last team to escape Devaney with a win was then-No. 25 Oklahoma, who withstood the Cornhuskers’ 18-point comeback to hold on for a 52-50 win Sunday.
When the Cornhuskers came to Columbia on Jan. 24, the Tigers capped the night with a 72-51 win, their second victory decided by more than nine points.
Still, the Tigers didn’t play solid for 40 minutes.
The Tigers’ shooting scare started early as they missed 14 of their first 17 shots. After trailing by as many as 10 points, they made a late first-half surge to lead by one at halftime and outscored the Cornhuskers 29-7 in the last nine minutes.
Faltering in the first-half has embarrassed the Tigers all season, but their early troubles against the Cornhuskers are especially startling.
In the 2003 conference tournament, the Cornhuskers jumped to a 22-4 lead before the Tigers improved their shooting for a 70-61 win. The Tigers trailed by nine at halftime in their past meeting in Devaney before winning 63-56.
“Especially on the road, you can’t have a slow start to make up for,” Snyder said. “There’s always a gap between what you know you’re supposed to do and actually going out and doing it. That’s a gap that needs to be pretty small for us because we don’t have a lot of margin for error.”
Lucky for Snyder and the Tigers, the Cornhuskers are in their own downward spiral.
After building a 10-1 nonconference resume, the Cornhuskers have lost six of their past seven.
“We need to keep looking at what we are, and what we need to do,” Nebraska coach Barry Collier said. “We need to stay determined to do that. I just feel like we improved, moved forward and got better as a basketball team through much of the season, and now we’ve kind of hit a point where we are trying to make the next step, but we haven’t been able to do that.”
Snyder said his squad, sitting at .500, has no choice but to move forward.
“I don’t want to put our season on a game in early February, but we know, in spite of the fact that we’ve played a tough schedule, we’re in a position where we’ve got to get hot,” Snyder said.
Kleiza out until at least Feb. 15
The Tigers will need to do it shorthanded, too.
Sidelined at least until the Tigers’ Feb. 15 meeting with UNLV, freshman Linas Kleiza is recovering from a dislocated right shoulder he suffered in the Tigers’ 83-70 loss to Colorado on Jan. 28. By all indications, the Tigers are missing Kleiza’s powerhouse statistics and his energy.
“Without Linas it is harder,” Snyder said. “Suddenly our depth is not there, and we are not as deep as we thought that we were. This time of year, we are trying to get better in practice, and we know we have a huge game on Saturday.”
Johnson and forward Travon Bryant, both seniors, are feeling that absence the most.
Without Kleiza in the rotation, Johnson and Bryant worked overtime against Kansas State and the Jayhawks, playing 36 minutes each.
Johnson, a starter since his sophomore season, is used to that kind of playing time, but Bryant said that was the longest he has played in his career.
“I was worn out. I haven’t played that many minutes since who knows when,” Bryant said. “That was a big burden on my shoulders. We did a good job, but we wouldn’t mind having a big body, a versatile body in there.”
Pulley questionable for Nebraska trip
Snyder said the team hasn’t reached a decision on whether point guard Randy Pulley will make the trip to Lincoln. Pulley was suspended indefinitely for missing two practices after the Colorado loss and did not travel to Lawrence, Kan., for the Tigers’ game against Kansas.
“This has been a challenging season, no question, but It’s not over,” Snyder said. “There’s a lot that’s yet to be written. It hasn’t happened this year where we’ve had a number of guys get hot at the same time. Hopefully that’s still ahead of us.”