Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
When the Missouri men’s basketball team lost to Arkansas on Jan. 24, Wes Clark — the team’s leading scorer in Southeastern Conference play — missed two free throws with 3.3 seconds to play and the Tigers fell one point short.
When Missouri tries to even the score in Fayetteville, Ark., today (8 p.m., SECN), it will have to do so without Clark, who suffered a dislocated elbow Feb. 10 at South Carolina.
Missouri has not won since Jan. 8, and hopes to avoid matching a school record with 12 consecutive losses. The Tigers also had 12-game losing streaks in the 1965-66 and 1966-67 seasons.
“Our biggest problem has been consistency and being able to finish a game,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said Monday in an SEC teleconference. “We’ve had quite a few games — not quite a few, but we’ve had several games where we’ve had opportunities to win down the stretch, and we haven’t been able to make plays.”
Though Clark came two shots short of shooting Missouri to victory, he did have a solid game overall, tallying eight points, six assists and five rebounds. And perhaps most importantly, Clark’s defense kept Arkansas junior Michael Qualls in check. Qualls had scored 30 points two days before against Alabama but shot just 3-of-15 for eight points against Missouri.
The Tigers will have to find a different defensive solution for Qualls today.
“Wes had really emerged as a guy that could guard just about any guard, at least do a good job on them,” Anderson said. “The size, Qualls is a little bit bigger, but that didn’t seem to bother Wes, and Wes had kind of emerged as a guy that could do that. So that is a problem.”
Anderson expects freshmen Montaque Gill-Caesar and Namon Wright and junior Deuce Bello to switch off on Qualls, and the first-year Missouri coach said the Tigers might switch over to a zone defense if needed.
Gill-Caesar and Wright returned Saturday in the Tigers’ 77-74 loss to Mississippi State after missing two games each to suspension. On Monday, Anderson said Tramaine Isabell will return for today’s game. The freshman guard has been suspended the last five games for behavioral problems.
Without Clark, senior Keith Shamburger remains as the team’s only true point guard. Shamburger played the entirety of Missouri’s game against Mississippi State and will have his hands full today as the Tigers try to handle the Razorbacks’ intense full-court press defense — something Missouri did well in January.
“We’ll have to have some other guys step up and play and kind of do it by committee,” Anderson said. “Hopefully Keith can handle it most of the time, but Namon and (Gill-Caesar) — and even if we have to go to (Johnathan Williams III) to help handle the ball a little bit, we’ll do that. It’ll be more of a committee.”
Williams is coming off what Anderson called the best game he has seen him play. Williams put up a career-high 27 points against Mississippi State — 23 in the second half. The sophomore forward had hit a rough patch in SEC play, averaging just more than nine points in his nine games before Saturday.
While the Tigers have struggled mightily since the two teams last met, the Razorbacks have gone 5-1, their lone loss a one-point defeat at Florida.
In addition to Qualls, Missouri will have to deal with sophomore Bobby Portis, a candidate for SEC player of the year. Portis’ .560 field goal percentage is best in the conference, his 17.7 points per game are second, and his 8.6 rebounds are fourth.
Arkansas has also gotten its bench more involved since it played Missouri. Freshman Anton Beard has seen starting time, and 10 players average 12 or more minutes for the Razorbacks.
At 20-5 overall and 9-3 in conference, Arkansas is poised for its first tournament appearance in four years under Mike Anderson, who was the head coach at Missouri before taking the same position in Fayetteville.
Mike Anderson said he’s facing a team with “nothing to lose and everything to gain” in the 7-18 Tigers.
“They’ve had some things take place, whether it be guys not playing, suspensions, injuries,” Mike Anderson said in the teleconference. “You’ve got a young basketball team as well. But just like those adversity things that have taken place, it can do one or two things. It can take you a direction where you all come on the same page and play your butts off or it can really affect you from the standpoint there’s no continuity.”