Coaches don’t like to talk about “must win” games, but for Missouri and coach Quin Snyder, that is what it has come to.
This afternoon’s game might be a must win for a different reason, though. With the Tigers’ game against UNLV at 2:30 p.m. at Hearnes Center being the second of three straight at home, it presents a good opportunity for the Tigers to earn consecutive wins for the first time since early December.
“We’ve got a lot of them,” Snyder said. “I don’t want to put our season on a game in early February, but we know in spite of the fact we’ve played a tough schedule and all those things, we’re in a position where we need to get hot.”
The most recent time the Tigers (10-10) won consecutive games was their first three of the season. They improved to 3-0 with a 63-58 come-from-behind win Dec. 6 at Indiana.
The win would also reverse a trend of poor nonconference play. After winning four of their first five, the Tigers have lost four of the past five nonconference games.
The Tigers faced defending national champion Syracuse in their most recent nonconference game Jan. 12, and after a strong first-half performance, the Tigers faltered in an 82-68 loss.
Although the Tigers struggled down the stretch against the Orangemen, they got stronger late in a 77-65 win against Colorado on Tuesday.
"It feels good to win"
“It feels good to win,” Snyder said. “I want to let that hang for a day. We know how big of a game UNLV is. Coach (Charlie) Spoonhour is a great coach. It’s always different when you get out of league because you’re not as familiar with who you are playing. Obviously it’s another game that’s important for us.”
If the Tigers want to continue their winning ways, it would benefit them to maintain the same effort with which they played against the Buffaloes. They forced 15 first-half turnovers and allowed 11 field goals in the first half.
The Tigers also made 14 steals; senior guard Rickey Paulding had seven, one shy of the school record. The Tigers held Colorado junior David Harrison to eight points. Harrison is third in the Big 12 Conference in scoring, averaging 16.4 points.
“We just got to play with the intensity we played with (Tuesday),” sophomore guard Jimmy McKinney said. “I believe so, that we’re going to keep it.”
Teams haven't met for 11 years
The Runnin’ Rebels (12-8) are the only Mountain West Conference team to win a conference game against Air Force, which is 18-3. Although the teams aren’t too familiar with each other because they haven’t met since 1993, senior forward Travon Bryant has a connection to the Runnin’ Rebels. Bryant said he knows senior Demetrius Hunter, a 6-foot-2 guard.
“Definitely, it’s a talented team,” Bryant said. “Even though their games come on late on ESPN, I’ve had a chance to watch them. We know they’re a good team, and we’ve got to treat every game like our last. That’s our mentality right now. That’s how we’re going to do it.”
Hunter, who averages 8.2 points, is fifth on the team in scoring. Junior forward Odartey Blankson, who transferred from Marquette, leads the team in scoring (16.8 per game) and rebounding (10.4).
The Runnin’ Rebels’ trip to Missouri ends a three-game road trip. They lost at Brigham Young 64-61 on Feb. 7 and Utah 70-56 on Monday.
“I don’t know too much about them,” Paulding said. “I just know it’s a must win for us. It’s pretty good that we’re going to be at home. I think we have to stay with the same effort and heart and character that we played with (Tuesday). That’s all we control and we’ll see where we go from there.”