Of the numerous storylines surrounding Missouri’s final game of the regular season, coach Quin Snyder has only one on his mind.
Today’s game is Senior Day for four Tigers. It will be the final regularly scheduled game in Hearnes Center. Snyder will go for his 100th win, and those are only the highlights.
For Snyder, though, matching up with Big 12 Conference rival Kansas at 1 p.m. presents the most pressing issue.
“I think all those things, although they are noteworthy and special, our primary focus as players and staff has to be on actually playing the game,” Snyder said.
“I think that it’s very important for us to participate to whatever extent in those things, but also to know the best thing we can do to make this day a special day is to play well and win.”
The Tigers have lost their past two home games against No. 21 Kansas and have won once in the past seven matchups. Today’s game is the 250th meeting between the teams, and the Jayhawks have a 158-91 advantage.
The Tigers (15-11, 9-6 Big 12) need a win to secure a bye in the first round of this week’s Big 12 Tournament. A loss would allow Texas Tech, which defeated Iowa State 72-58 on Saturday, to tie the Tigers. Colorado earned a bye with a 78-75 win against Nebraska on Saturday.
The Jayhawks (19-7, 11-4) won the season’s first matchup 65-56 on Feb. 2, in Lawrence, Kan. They closed the game with a 12-4 run after the game had eight ties and 17 lead changes.
The Tigers lost their next game, 78-62, at Nebraska on Feb. 7, but then became one of the hottest teams in the Big 12. They won six straight before losing 87-76 at Texas Tech on Wednesday night.
“They are a team that is a lot more confident,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “They are hungry, and they have a lot to play for. They have been as good as anyone in our league the last three weeks, Oklahoma State included. They are capable of playing at a very high level. We anticipate them playing at a high level on Sunday.”
If the Tigers want to continue their hot play, they will need to hinder Kansas’ two best offensive options. Allowing Kansas’ transition game and junior forward Wayne Simien to get started cost the Tigers earlier this
“I think it starts with stopping them in transition,” Snyder said. “Wayne Simien is right there. He gets a lot of stuff in transition, too. He is one of the more dominant players in the country right now, let alone our league. He has really got a groove in his play, and he can score so many different ways.
“You don’t find too many college guys that can score over the top of you from the post. A lot of college players need angles, but he can just rise right up and score over the top of you. That’s what makes him really difficult to guard.”
Simien, who ranks second in the Big 12 with 17.4 points per game, scored a game-high 18 in Lawrence, Kan. In addition, junior guard Aaron Miles had eight assists, as many as the Tigers had, in the game.
“Kansas knows that if they run, (Miles’) going to get them the ball,” MU freshman Thomas Gardner said. “That’s something that hurt us earlier in the year. We watched a lot of film on that and how to get back. It’s really just us wanting to get back and stopping the transition points.”
Miles leads the Big 12 with 7.4 assists per game. Miles as well as KU guard Michael Lee went to Jefferson High in Portland, Ore., with Gardner. Lee and Gardner are cousins.
The Tigers’ defense struggled mightily against the Red Raiders, who scored on 16 of their first 17 possessions of the second half. The burst translated to 31 points in more than nine minutes.
“It was really a letdown for us because we’ve been so great for the last couple weeks on the defensive end,” sophomore guard Jimmy McKinney said. “Somehow we collapsed on it, but I can tell you one thing and this is my word for it. You will never see that again.”
The Red Raiders primarily relied on dribble penetration to repeatedly enter the lane and have easy looks at the basket. Senior forward Travon Bryant said the defense must tighten up because Kansas, with players such as Miles, will attempt to drive early and often.
“(Texas Tech) got to the hole at will especially scoring 31 points in the first nine minutes,’’ Bryant said. “That’s unheard of. It’s something we have to correct.”
INJURY UPDATE: Gardner said Friday his bruised left shoulder, which he injured at Kansas State on Feb. 28, had improved to 70 percent.
Gardner started against Texas Tech and should start again today.
After saying earlier in the week freshman center David Padgett would likely be unavailable today, Self said Thursday that Padgett could play. Self kept Padgett out of practice Thursday and Friday because of the sprained right ankle he suffered against Oklahoma on Feb. 29.
“We gave him an MRI (Wednesday) and everything turned out negative,” Self said. “It is just sore, and he has to go on it. I anticipate him being available on Sunday.”
Padgett started and scored six points in 26 minutes in the Feb. 2 matchup.