LAWRENCE, Kan. — It’s much too late in the season for there to be any moral victories for Missouri.
“There’s no such thing as that for us,” senior Jason Conley said. “We’ve had a lot of those this year, and as time goes on … They feel good as far making a big step as a team, but me and the guys are tired of getting so close, as far as playing these big schools that are ranked and getting close. That almost hurts more. I’d rather lose by 100 points than lose by nine or 10.”
The Tigers came out focused and gave No. 3 Kansas all it could handle early, but once again Missouri failed against a zone defense and the Jayhawks came from behind to win 73-61 at Allen Fieldhouse on Monday.
“It’s either do or die right now,” freshman Jason Horton said. “It’s been do or die. We had a lead the whole game and a couple bad breaks and we threw it away. We just have to keep grinding right now. That’s the only thing we can do.”
Missouri led by 11 with 19 minutes left when Kansas finally switched into a zone. The zone has baffled the Tigers all season, and Missouri faltered almost immediately.
“You know when they went zone,” MU coach Quin Snyder said, shaking his head and trying to find the words. “It’s no secret that we struggle against zone. It’s something we’ve worked on day in and day out, but the guys still don’t get it.”
Apparently, a little more practice is in order.
“We prepare for it all the time,” freshman Marshall Brown said. “In practice we look good, but in a game it just seems like we’ve never played against a zone before.”
The Tigers began settling for perimeter shots, which yielded long rebounds. Kansas pushed those rebounds for transition baskets and repeatedly victimized a napping Tiger defense.
“There were some times when I was almost ready to go out and push the guy in front of me into the middle of the zone,” Snyder said. “That’s where he’s supposed to go. I think when we see zone, we freeze a little bit.”
Kansas took the lead with 13:00 left when guard J.R Giddens rebounded missed Tiger 3-point attempts on consecutive possessions and caught Missouri off guard for two easy transitional buckets.
The death knell for Missouri came with 3:13 left, when sophomore forward Linas Kleiza committed his fifth foul with contact away from the ball on Kansas’ Christian Moody.
Kleiza threw his hands up in disgust and was promptly rewarded with a technical foul. He finished with 11 points and six fouls, one more than is needed to foul out of a ball game.
Tiger junior Kevin Young bobbled a scoop pass from Horton out of bounds on the next Tiger possession. Freshman Glen Dandridge missed a 3-point attempt on the one after that, and the outcome was assured.
Another game in the loss column for Missouri.
“It hurts, man” Brown said. “We’ve been down this road before with Illinois and Oklahoma State. It’s either do or don’t. Right now, at this point in the season, we’ve got to get wins and that’s the bottom line.”