Despite one of his strongest performance of the season in Missouri’s 68-65 overtime win against No. 16 Oklahoma, sophomore guard Thomas Gardner will start tonight’s game on the bench.
Missouri coach Quin Snyder wants to send a message.
“Gardner goes to the bench, that’s right, after a big game he goes to the bench,” Snyder said, raising his voice ironically. “Because it doesn’t matter. We need all three of them. We need all four of them. We need everybody playing for our team. They aren’t worried about their own stuff.”
The Missouri men’s basketball team, which is riding high after Gardner hit 3-of-4 3-pointers in the last six minutes of a comeback win against the Sooners on Saturday, will host Baylor at 7 p.m. at Mizzou Arena.
Snyder said he expects a team effort and was optimistic that Missouri (11-13, 3-7 Big 12 Conference) will not suffer a letdown the way it did earlier this season.
The Tigers looked sharp in an 80-70 win against Nebraska on Jan. 22, but lost their next five games. The losing streak was the longest during Snyder’s tenure as Missouri’s coach.
“This is more than an appetizer for us,” Snyder said. “There’s no way our team can be full. We don’t have any lack of desire or hunger. It’s been our lack of consistent focus. We’ve got a bunch of guys who are pretty good players, but for us to have a good team, they’re going to have to do some dirty work. I think that’s what you saw the second half of the Oklahoma game, guys learning how they have to play.”
The guard combination of Gardner, senior Jason Conley and freshman Jason Horton certainly looked as though it had matured on Saturday. Gardner scored 18. Conley handed out seven assists. Horton dished out a career-high 10 assists and committed three turnovers.
Horton’s 10 assists were the most by a Tiger since Wesley Stokes had 11 against Coppin State on Jan. 2, 2002.
“I know I am successful when we win,” Horton said. “That’s the only way to measure it. It’s all about the team.”
The season’s hardships and Snyder’s willingness to use unconventional lineups appear to have fostered a team-first atmosphere in the locker room.
“We all know that,” Gardner said. “It doesn’t matter what any of us do individually or who steps up at what time. We’re just trying to get wins.”
Snyder benched star forward Linas Kleiza for the entire first half of Missouri’s 91-63 loss to Texas A&M on Feb. 5 because Kleiza talked back to a referee after fouling out in the previous game against Kansas.
Eight players have started for the Tigers this season.
“Part of the reason we’ve got some of these guys not worrying about their game is that they don’t have to worry about the other (stuff),” Snyder said. “If we’re too hung up on who is starting, we’ve got no chance to win anyway