Believe it or not, Missouri believes.
Missouri had few options after a demoralizing 78-62 loss Saturday to a Nebraska team it had beaten by 21 two weeks earlier. The Tigers had two choices: keep hoping or write off the season.
They chose the former.
“We just have to keep the faith,” sophomore guard Jimmy McKinney said. “You can’t just give up on yourself and the things you want to accomplish. I still believe in this team.”
Junior guard Jason Conley said, “People can think it’s over for us, but we still have eight games left and we can do a lot of things in that time.”
Senior forward Travon Bryant said, “We know we can go out there and do it.”
The Tigers’ optimism will be tested today when they face Colorado at 6 p.m. at Hearnes Center. Without a Big 12 Conference Tournament championship, it’s likely Missouri must win the rest of its games to reach the NCAA Tournament.
“We have to look inside and find more,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “The season’s not over, but if we play like we did (Saturday), we’re not going to get where we need to go.”
If the Tigers (9-10, 4-5 Big 12) play tonight as they did at Colorado on Jan. 28, they will find themselves sliding farther down the conference standings. Colorado’s big men dominated in the 83-70 win. Forwards Michel Morandais, Lamar Harris and center David Harrison combined for 62 points and 27 rebounds.
Strong performances from Missouri’s big men could lead to the Tigers’ first win in three games.
“We’ve got to do a much better job of rebounding the basketball,” assistant coach Marcus Perez said. “First and foremost, we’ve got to limit them to one shot. They’ve got such a terrific ability to get to the glass, and they really hurt us with that in Boulder. We’ve also got to continue to work on being a better defensive unit as a team.”
Missouri’s most glaring defensive problems have been from the outside, where it is 11th in the conference in 3-point defense, allowing opponents to make 38.9 percent of their attempts.
Except for guard Blair Wilson, Colorado is not a threat from the outside. Instead, Missouri center Arthur Johnson must focus on slowing Harrison, whose 62.4 field goal percentage is best in the conference and 16.8 points per game ranks second.
“Harrison is a phenomenal player inside,” Perez said. “They are a complete basketball team.”
The Buffaloes (13-7, 5-4) have won three of four, including an 82-81 home win against Kansas State on Saturday. Coach Ricardo Patton credited his team’s steadiness for its recent strong play.
“For us to be successful, our best players had to show up and be consistent,” Patton said. “They couldn’t play well one night and take the next one off .”
“We still haven’t broken through. We’re still looking for a breakthrough moment.”
That moment could come tonight. The Buffaloes are 2-31 at Hearnes Center, including 25 straight losses from 1974-96. Colorado, which most recently won in Columbia on Jan. 7, 1997, is trying to end a six-game losing streak in Columbia.
Patton praised the Tigers after Colorado’s win in January and said he remains impressed with their talent.
“I think everybody realizes that Missouri’s record is not an indicator of how good that they are,” Patton said. “We talked to our players (Sunday) that there’s a thin line between success and failure. Missouri is still one of the top teams in our league and one to always be respected.”
After the turnaround from dominating home win to shocking road loss against the Cornhuskers, the Tigers would surely accept a similar reversal against Colorado tonight.
“It’s been a weird season, but we’re at a point where we just have to dig in and win ball games,” McKinney said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Perez said, “We’re not going to give up. We’re not going to stop teaching. We’re not going to stop working. Our guys aren’t going to stop competing.”
KROENKE OUT: Senior guard Josh Kroenke was injured in an accident during practice Sunday and will miss tonight’s home game against Colorado and likely Sunday’s game against UNLV.
Freshman guard Thomas Gardner’s dunk shattered the backboard of a basket in Hearnes Center’s fourth-floor practice gym, and Gardner pulled the metal rim to the floor as he fell.
The rim hit Kroenke, who was under the basket, on the right leg, creating a cut 1-inch long and 1-inch deep.