It’s hard to call the third game of the Big 12 Conference season a must-win game. But when you’re 0-2 going into the game and its followed by a trip to Lawrence, Kan., that might be the best way to describe it.
Sandwiched between that 0-2 start and Monday’s game against rival Kansas, Missouri looks for its first conference win in the Mike Anderson era Saturday against Kansas State, another team trying for its first Big 12 win under a new coach. Coach Bob Huggin’s Wildcats are a physical team, led in scoring by Cartier Martin. Because of his team’s recent rebounding problems, Missouri coach Mike Anderson said he is concerned about Kansas State’s toughness.
“They’re very, very physical. ... They’re going to guard you,” Anderson said. “And they’re going to be physical around the basket. So one of my concerns is on the boards. We have to match their intensity on the boards.”
Rebounding was just one of the many worries for Anderson during Missouri’s game at Texas on Wednesday. But while the Tigers lost by 20 points to the Longhorns, Anderson said he was pleased with the way his team responded in the second half after a rough first half.
“In the second half, we looked more like our basketball team,” Anderson said. “And if we can do that, hopefully for two halves, in the terms of our defense, contesting shots, rebounding, creating turnovers, being an attacking team. That’s what we want to see.”
Anderson said in the first half, he thought the team’s inexperience factored into the game. A prime example was sophomore guard Matt Lawrence, who was rarely involved in the team’s offense against Texas. Lawrence was held scoreless for the first time this season and only took three shots in the game.
“You look at Matt Lawrence, a guy that’s been scoring quite a bit for us,” Anderson said. “He missed a couple of shots and now he’s reluctant to shoot. That’s one thing you can’t do. You can’t teach experience. You have to go through it. And we got some guys that are going through the experience.”
Kansas State will be without standout freshman forward Bill Walker, who will miss the rest of the season after he suffered a complete rupture of the anterior crucial ligament in his left knee last weekend. Because of the injury to Walker, the Wildcats have backtracked in the past few games. Kansas State coach Bob Huggins attributed some of the team’s recent struggles to Walker’s injury.
“It affects us in a lot of ways,” Huggins said. “Bill’s got a great basketball IQ. You can do some things with him because he understands what you want him to do, on top of being a great talent.”
After taking accelerated courses to finish high school, Walker didn’t join the team until Dec. 16. In six games, he averaged 11.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. After he became eligible to play, Huggins changed the team’s offensive philosophy to focus on Walker.
“We had the break over Christmas where we had a long time off and we changed some things offensively to take advantage of what he can do,” Huggins said. “... And so, now we’ve got to go back and try to do the things that we were doing successful before we got Bill.”
In addition to Walker’s injury, poor shooting has led to Kansas State’s slow start to the conference season. In their first two games, the Wildcats are shooting 36.8 percent from the field and only 24.2 percent from 3-point range.
“The bad thing about our team right now is the guys that are capable of making shots have had pretty good looks and haven’t made them,” Huggins said. “And they really haven’t made them when it counted. We’re working hard at it. And they’re working hard at it. They may be concentrating on it too much instead of just sometimes just letting it go. Sometimes maybe you think about it too much.”