Defense bolsters MU men's basketball team

Sunday, December 23, 2007 | 10:55 p.m. CST; updated 8:50 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ST. LOUIS — When defense and the Missouri men’s basketball team are mentioned in the same sentence another word is usually tagging along for the ride — pressure.

Everywhere an opposing player goes on the court, Missouri wants to make him uncomfortable in order to take him out of his game. This season, though, Missouri has been making teams uncomfortable in a variety of ways. It seems like with each game, the Tigers are adding a new wrinkle to their defensive scheme.

In Saturday’s 59-58 loss to Illinois, Missouri used just about every defense that could be found in a guide on coaching basketball. The Tigers used a 1-2-2 attacking press, a 2-2-1 slow-down-the-pace press. They played man-to-man half court defense, they played a 2-3 zone. They even triple-teamed Illini center Shaun Pruitt at times in the second half to contain him.

Missouri will play whatever defense coach Mike Anderson feels is necessary to win the game. It didn’t work for the Tigers on Saturday against Illinois and they couldn’t end a seven game losing streak in the annual Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis.

“I thought we had the game going the way we wanted to,” Anderson said of his team’s defensive effort. “We just came up short in the end.”

Illinois coach Bruce Weber said that because of how often Missouri changed its defense, he felt his team never really got into a good offensive flow in the second half. Some statistics from the game back up Weber’s comments. The Illini shot only 39 percent on field goals in the second half after shooting 52 percent from the floor in the first half.

“That’s what we do,” forward DeMarre Carroll said of changing defenses. “We got millions of defenses. We just go out there and try to flip them (the other team) upside down and swap and match because we live off our defense. If we can have an opponent doing things they don’t want to do, that’d be a blessing for us.”

The defense can change on any given possession, though the number of defenses the Tigers use is assuredly less than the “millions” Carroll suggests. Regardless of what defense Missouri is playing, one thing remains constant. Whether the Tigers are in man-to-man or a 2-3 zone, it always comes back to that pressure.

“We try to mix up defenses so nobody knows what we’re going to hit them with,” guard Stefhon Hannah said. “Everybody knows we’re going to play 40 minutes of hell, and that we want to pressure, so we mix up our defenses and catch people off guard. That should be effective.”

A big part of the Tigers’ pressure this season has been the defensive intensity that bench players have come into the game with. It’s one thing for the Missouri starters to be pressuring an opposing team into turnovers, but mistakes compound for opponents when that pressure does not let up with reserves coming in.

Anderson praised reserve guard J.T. Tiller and reserve forwards Darryl Butterfield and Vaidotas Volkus for their efforts in the game against Illinois.

“We really started getting after it, and forcing them (the Illini) to make plays,” Anderson said. “We sped up the game, and when that takes place, it’s to our advantage.”

That advantage wasn’t enough for Missouri against Illinois, but it showed the Tigers’ defense is becoming something future opponents will have to take into account.

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