Missouri is on a three-game winning streak, but it seems like the team that defeated then-No. 12 Gonzaga and gave No. 1 Illinois its toughest competition of the season is nowhere to be found.
In a 64-51 victory against American on Tuesday, the Tigers came out flat and played without emotion. Just four days later, Missouri gained a 13-point lead against Iowa State then crumbled early in the second half. A 12-and-a-half-minute field goal drought put the Tigers down by 12. A flourish in the final four minutes allowed Missouri to pull out a 62-59 victory.
Even though the past two games were wins for the Tigers, the buzz surrounding the Tigers seems to be quieting down. Missouri coach Quin Snyder even said his players seemed to have lost their focus.
“I was really disappointed in a lot of the little things that we’ve been building on, and I think we’ve seen and liked, we didn’t see tonight,” Snyder said after the Iowa State game.
Snyder said he didn’t think his team was “playing the right way.” He said he felt that once the Tigers had the lead against the Cyclones they let up.
“We got soft defensively,” Snyder said. “It started at the point of attack. On the ball we were backing up. We weren’t hedging hard on (on-ball screens) when they were driving it and when they shot it they pushed us under the rim and took the ball from us on the boards.”
Soft defense is the opposite of what the Tigers had been playing. Before the American game, it was Missouri’s defense that allowed the Tigers to win or at least stay in it. Snyder had said his team was gaining its identity as being physical and strong defensively.
After edging the Cyclones, Snyder said the players wanted to play the right way but they didn’t have the right mind-set.
“Guys got to lose their individual agendas and focus on their team,” Snyder said. “You could see it out there today. Guys were not thinking about the right stuff that’s made this team fun to coach the last couple weeks.”
Snyder said he couldn’t figure out what his players were thinking about but said he did know they weren’t thinking about the team or defense.
The ability to recapture the defensive intensity that the Tigers once showed is not lost, according to Snyder. He said the challenge would be for his players to reestablish their consistency of purpose and effort.
After the Iowa State game, Snyder said that he had aged a few years but getting the win kept him from losing too much of his youth. He also said he constantly has to remember that his team is young.
“I think the thing that I try to remember about these guys is I think this is a process for them,” Snyder said. “You can’t panic when it’s happening because you short circuit any ability that they have to respond.”
After the game, senior guard Jason Conley was hesitant to call his team soft until he heard that Snyder had said it himself.
“I just don’t think we were aggressive as far as attacking the goal,” Conley said. “I think there was times when we had a chance to score but we backed it out so we could get into some kind of offense or something.”
The Tigers need to rediscover their defensive instincts quickly as they head into the heart of a the Big 12 Conference schedule. If they don’t, any postseason expectations will be lost with their defensive identity.