Improved defense key for Missouri

Friday, December 3, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:52 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 7, 2008

Missouri players and coaches haven’t taken defense lightly this season.

It is often the central topic of coach Quin Snyder’s postgame press conferences, and is often one of the first things players discuss in the locker room.

Junior guard Jimmy McKinney believes if Missouri plays solid defense, it will win every game.

This hasn’t always been the case.

The Tigers (3-3) have struggled defensively early in the season, but hope five days of practice will produce better results at 1 p.m. Saturday against Oakland (0-4) in Mizzou Arena.

Missouri had played four games in 10 days before the break.

“We went back to the basics, especially on defense,” freshman point guard Jason Horton said. “We worked hard on defense, and being in better habits on defense.

“It’s been a real important week for us because we have some big games coming up.”

In particular, Horton said the coaches emphasized concentration because the Tigers have allowed missed shots or turnovers to impact their mind-set on defense.

This lack of concentration can be seen in the shooting percentage of opposing teams. Teams have shot almost 44 percent from the field and 3-point line against the Tigers.

“In order for this team to continue to grow we’ve got to get better at guarding the basketball, keeping it in front of us and not allowing it to get to the middle of our defense,” Missouri assistant coach Melvin Watkins said. “As we’ve said, ‘Build a wall and guard our guards.’”

In practice, the Tigers focused on their half-court man-to-man defense. Oakland, meanwhile, is known for their half-court zone defense, Watkins said.

“Knowing that we’ve got to value the ball, we’ve got to be strong with the ball and the bottom line is we’ve got to make some shots,” Watkins said.

Horton also noted the value of attacking the basket, instead of playing passive and passing around the perimeter.

The Golden Grizzlies’ four losses came to Xavier, Marquette, Illinois and Texas A&M.

Senior guard Rawle Marshall has averaged 21 points and six rebounds in that span.

Missouri opened last season with a 90-85 win at Oakland on Nov. 29.

TO THE POINT: After missing three games with a high right ankle sprain, sophomore point guard Spencer Laurie said his chances for playing Saturday look good.

Laurie practiced most of the week and his ankle felt a lot better.

“I’m to the point now where about everyday it seems like I’m making big jumps,” Laurie said. “I’m doing a lot of rehab, working on it a lot. So it’s feeling a lot better.”

Laurie suffered the injury when he stepped on Horton’s foot in practice Nov. 21.

Watkins said Laurie’s return would be welcomed, but that it hasn’t been determined yet.

“We haven’t talked much about that, but we have missed that young man and what he brings to the table,” Watkins said. “We as a staff don’t want to use excuses at all, but it’ll be good to get him back out there.”

NOT TOO CROWDED: The 15,000-seat Mizzou Arena hasn’t come close to nearing capacity in the Tigers’ first four home games.

The average attendance has been 8,340 fans. The high point was 10,067 in a loss to Davidson. The low point was 6,981 in the season-opening win against Brown.

Although the lack of numbers might frustrate some, it’s a vast improvement for Watkins who spent six years as head coach at Texas A&M.

“From where I came 2,000, 2,500 fans was a pretty big crowd,” Watkins said. “So here I’m pretty pleased with the crowds.”

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