When Missouri lost to Kansas State on Jan. 13, Marshall Brown’s missed dunk probably was the single ugliest moment for the Tigers. Brown’s miss was a physical mistake, an unlucky moment, and a vivid memory from the Tigers third consecutive conference loss.
But what beat the Tigers (13-6, 2-4 Big 12) that day was the rebounding.
Forty-one times the Tigers were either outhustled or in the wrong position to get rebounds.
Rebounding is a product of effort. And on that Saturday, Missouri’s effort was lacking. Tigers coach Mike Anderson even admitted it and challenged his team to improve.
In Missouri’s three games since, the effort, and the rebounding, have both increased. The Tigers have averaged 37 rebounds in their past three games. The results have also improved, with the Tigers winning two consecutive games and coming within a couple shots of winning in Lawrence.
“I think they’re taking better care of the ball. When we were in Columbia, Stef (Stefhon Hannah) got in foul trouble and I think that kind of helped us,” Kansas State coach Bob Huggins said. “You know, Mike’s teams are always going to play really, really hard and they’re going to force the tempo on you.”
Anderson’s team did not do either the last time Missouri played Kansas State. Kansas State (15-6, 4-2 Big 12) was able to slow the Tigers down. And when Missouri had chances to get some fast breaks, they were rarely able to capitalize. Whether it was an errant pass, missed layup or even the Tigers forgetting to grab the ball, Missouri allowed Kansas State to control the game.
That hasn’t happened since. And Huggins said he expects Missouri to continue to play hard tonight.
“I don’t know if they are going to be any more motivated than they were before,” Huggins said. “They always play hard. I don’t know if you can play harder than what they play.”
Even Texas Tech coach Bob Knight was impressed with what he saw out of the Tigers, although he did not correctly identify the team.
“If I were just somebody who understood basketball watching them play without any interest in who wins, I would be impressed with the way Murray plays,” Knight said, substituting Murray for Missouri. “They’re well-coached and well put together for the way they play.”
But after the last time Missouri and Kansas State played, nobody inside the program was praising Missouri. The Tigers were 0-3, and some said their fast start was because of a weak non-conference schedule. While Anderson didn’t say that on Jan. 13, he did say he was disappointed in his team’s effort and rebounding, something he has demanded all season.
“That’s the hustle part. That’s a loose ball,” Anderson said “That’s especially what we’ve always done. And it’s amazing that in this particular game here we didn’t do that. That’s the first thing we talked about. Energy. You got to play with energy and you got to get all the loose balls.”
Now, Anderson isn’t talking about a lack of effort. Something has changed for the Tigers. Something for the better.
“One of the things coming into conference play, you gotta play with a sense of urgency,” Anderson said Monday. “I think, we’re starting to see more of that now.
“And not necessarily in the last two games. I thought, even in the Kansas game, I thought we played with a sense of urgency.
So that allows you an opportunity to have a chance to win.”
All of this has happened since their loss to Kansas State. If the energy disappears again, so will the Tigers opportunity to win.