With one look at the Missouri game plan, anyone can tell Quin Snyder sets his squad’s standards on defense.
It took a while for that strategy to translate on the court from the drawing board.
Colorado got the message loud and clear when the Tigers’ defense accounted for a season-high 14 steals in the Tigers’ 77-65 win Tuesday.
“It definitely starts with defense,” Missouri senior Rickey Paulding said. “When we’re in those close games, and when we beat Oklahoma, it was defense and rebounding. Last couple games, we haven’t been doing it as well and that’s why we’ve been losing.”
Paulding’s play made the biggest statement, a defensive roar with seven steals. He needed one more to match the school record.
The team steals put this game in the Tiger top 10 record list. The Tigers’ 1992 bunch grabbed 23 balls from Florida A&M.
Paulding said the team refreshed its defensive fundamentals after a 78-62 loss against Nebraska on Saturday. The Tigers used practice drills from the beginning of the season to get back much-needed energy, he said.
“That was one of our goals for the season,” Paulding said. “We found it for a minute, and then we lost it. It just felt good to come back and do it tonight.”
Snyder said he was most pleased with Paulding’s defense. Paulding, who set a career-high in turnovers against Coppin State, raised the Tigers’ defense to a higher level, he said.
“I really was pleased with how Rickey guarded,” Snyder said. “We’ve talked about that being the thing that’s going to carry us, is defending and rebounding.
“You don’t need confidence to defend. But obviously, the more the guys play, the more comfortable they’re going to get.”
Snyder usually calls on freshman Thomas Gardner to lead the team’s defensive enthusiasm. Gardner, who had two steals against the Buffaloes, said Paulding’s energy drove him.
“Today was a game where I fed off the team’s energy,” Gardner said. “Usually it’s vice versa. Rickey Paulding really stepped up and really started to become our leader. That got me juiced up to play defense, and that’s something we’re really going to need for the rest of the season, to feed off each other.”
The Tigers flipped the script on their ballhandling troubles, turning the ball over nine times and almost matching the season-low turnover mark of eight they set in a 76-56 win against Iowa.
Snyder said the team’s defense was the primary generator for their offense.
“We didn’t rebound the ball real well the first half, but on the whole, we did a real good job defensively,” Snyder said. “The basket looks a little bigger when you’re getting stops. We made some shots … finally.”
INJURY REPORT: The Tiger bench shrinks every game. After losing freshman Linas Kleiza in the Tigers’ first meeting with Colorado on Jan. 28, senior Josh Kroenke was sidelined after an injury in Sunday’s practice.
Kroenke was under the basket when Gardner delivered a backboard-shattering dunk, and some of the glass cut an inch-deep hole in Kroenke’s right leg.
“It’s hard to gauge exactly when he’ll be back,” Snyder said. “I’ll tell you this, it was a scary injury, seeing a big hole in his leg and not really knowing what happened.”
Kleiza, who dislocated his right shoulder against the Buffaloes, will have his shoulder re-evaluated this weekend. Kleiza missed two weeks but could make up for it against UNLV on Sunday if doctors deem his rehab sufficient Saturday.
Kleiza and Kroenke aren’t the only members of Missouri’s program sidelined with injuries.
Athletic Director Mike Alden underwent surgery Tuesday on his rotator cuff.
“We’re trying to get him back and Linas back,” Snyder said.
FAN FADEAWAY: After the Tigers’ loss to the Cornhuskers, many Missouri fans didn’t show up Tuesday. The crowd of 9,370 was the second-smallest attendance at Hearnes this season. Only 9,091 fans showed up for the Dec. 2 meeting with Coppin State.
Although his team notices, Paulding said a few thousand fans aren’t controlling what happens on the court.
“We were aware of it,” Paulding said. “We looked around when we were warming up. We’ve been telling each other the whole season, what matters is us in this room, in this program. People are going to show up, and they’re not going to show up. We can’t control that.”
RECORD-REAPER: After the Buffaloes’ Michel Morandis missed a shot in the second half, Arthur Johnson became the third Tiger to grab 1,000 rebounds. Grabbing four against the Buffaloes, Johnson has 1,001 career rebounds and needs 53 more to top Doug Smith as the school’s rebounding leader.
Johnson’s rebounding effort also earns him a spot in school history as the second Tiger to score at least 1,500 points and have 1,000 rebounds. Johnson is 10th on the scoring list with 1,541 points.