Effort in practice never presented a problem.
Through 19 games, though, Missouri’s work in practice erratically appeared in the subsequent game. The team’s confidence wavered as it dropped below .500.
Missouri coach Quin Snyder sought to find a way so that his team would duplicate the effort from practice in games. He decided to bring practice to the game.
“It’s just another opportunity to work on your skills,” Snyder said. “I think that’s one of the things we’ve continued to try and emphasize. We want to defend and rebound, but players still have to make plays. Our guys still have to hit shots. We still have to have confidence.”
More than an hour before the Tigers’ game at Kansas State on Saturday, sweat dripped from Snyder’s forehead as he vigorously delivered passes and directed players.
In the six games Snyder has instructed pregame warm-ups, the Tigers (15-10, 9-5 Big 12 Conference) have not lost.
“It gets you to a flow,” senior forward Travon Bryant said. “It gets you a little more game situation. We do a lot of things out of the plays that we run. That gives you confidence when you go out there. When you got to rise up and make a shot or make a read, it gives you the confidence to do it.”
Snyder’s presence on the court first came after the Tigers’ uninspiring performance at Nebraska on Feb. 7. Early in the game, a loose ball rolled near the Tigers’ basket. Two Cornhuskers dove for the ball while several Tigers stood and watched.
The Cornhuskers came up with that ball and the game. They faced few serious challenges from the Tigers in their 78-62 win. The game featured numerous occasions that the Cornhuskers outhustled the Tigers.
Bryant and the Tigers’ three other seniors, Josh Kroenke, Arthur Johnson and Rickey Paulding, didn’t like what they were seeing and went to Snyder about it. In the Tigers’ next game, against Colorado on Feb. 10, Snyder conducted the pregame warm-ups.
“We didn’t want the season to go the way that it was going six games
ago,” Bryant said. “He knows that, and we asked that out of him. He demands a lot of us and asked what we needed out of him, and we told him, ‘We just need you go out there and be the coach that you are, being more vocal and being more active.’”
The first workout began with Snyder working with Bryant on his shot, but others joined in shortly thereafter.
The Tigers responded to the Snyder-led warm-ups with a much more consistent effort against the Buffaloes and produced a 77-65 win. The Tigers forced 15 turnovers in the first half, and Paulding recorded a career-high seven steals in the game.
The players immediately improved from the intensified workout. Paulding has averaged 17.3 points and 4.5 assists since the workouts began. Johnson has scored more than 20 points twice. Junior guard Jason Conley has scored in double figures in 5-of-6 games.
Conley said the Snyder-led workouts included more structure and organization than early season pregame warm-ups.
“It gets us talking,” Conley said. “He’s a motivator. He’s not only a coach, but he’s a motivator. When he’s out there, he’s talking to us, he’s motivating us, telling us different moves and skills.”
Conley works with a group of guards on ballhandling before the game. Conley, Paulding, sophomore Jimmy McKinney and freshman Spencer Laurie execute various dribbling techniques across the court as Snyder oversees the drill.
“We’ve continued to work on those things and continued to reinforce that even if you haven’t made the last one, we’re not going to win against the best teams with guys playing tentatively,” Snyder said.
Freshman guard Thomas Gardner said Snyder’s direction of warm-ups creates a beneficial, familiar atmosphere for the Tigers.
“I think that’s very important for out team because everyday in practice he’s on the court with us,” Gardner said. “That really helps us to play better and do different things.”
So that the Tigers’ winning streak continues, Bryant said the Tigers will, undoubtedly, maintain their pregame routine.
“We’re not going to stop anything,” Bryant said. “If a team comes out and beats us, we got to give them credit for going out there and playing a great game, but we know we’re going to go out there and continue to give a hard effort.”
PAULDING EARNS HONORS: The Big 12 announced Monday that Paulding received the Big 12 Player of the Week Award for his efforts in the Tigers’ two wins.
Paulding averaged 24 points and 4.5 assists. He made 9-of-17 shots for 31 points in the Tigers’ 93-92 double-overtime win against No. 8 Oklahoma State on Tuesday night.
At Kansas State on Saturday, Paulding played a strong all-around game in the Tigers’ 79-69 win. He had 17 points and eight assists as well as the momentum-changing dunk early in the second half.
Paulding came down the court with Conley on a two-on-one break, and instead of passing to Conley, Paulding leaped over Wildcats guard Frank Richards for the one-handed dunk.