Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
With two remaining games at Mizzou Arena this season, the Missouri men’s basketball team’s chances to end its school-record losing streak are running out.
The Tigers play their penultimate home game of the season today against Florida (8 p.m., SEC Network).
“They’re a team that presents I think a lot of problems for us,” first-year Missouri coach Kim Anderson said of the Gators. “They do a great job of driving the ball to the basket, and that’s something that we’ve struggled against.”
The Tigers (7-20, 1-13 Southeastern Conference) are coming off a 76-53 road loss Saturday to Vanderbilt. The loss was Missouri’s 13th in a row, setting a school record.
Missouri shot just 37.5 percent from the field and put up its lowest point total in two weeks. Though the Tigers’ scoring numbers had improved prior to Saturday’s loss, the young Missouri team still ranks last in the SEC with 61.7 points per game.
“I don’t think guys understand yet just how hard it is to get a good shot in this league,” Anderson said Monday in an SEC coaches teleconference. “There are some really, really good defensive players, and there are some really, really good defensive schemes. I know you all are tired of hearing the freshman story, but when you come from maybe a high-school situation … it’s not always as hard to get a shot (in high school) as it is in the SEC.”
The Tigers have also struggled on the defensive end of the floor. Despite Anderson’s insistence upon taking the job that Missouri would be a defense-first team, the Tigers are allowing 69.5 points per game, 263rd in the country and second-worst in the SEC.
“I think we have regressed,” Anderson said. “… Being able to guard our man has been a problem the whole year. Probably the disappointing part is I don’t think we’re getting the necessary help when a guy breaks somebody down.”
Though Missouri has gone a month and a half without winning a game, Anderson said he has seen signs of improvement.
“It’s hard for people to see it,” he said. “I’ve said this, that I think our guys have gotten better, but so has the competition. As you get into the league and the coaches do such a great job of scouting and preparation, you have to step your game up even more. So yeah, people will look at our record and say, ‘Well, they haven’t gotten any better.’ We have gotten better, but we’re playing really good teams.”
Though hopes of a postseason tournament invitation have long been squashed, Anderson still feels there’s a reason to continue.
“It’s never too late,” he said. “There’s still four regular-season games left, and you still have a chance to win some games and improve as a team.”
In the first of those four, the Tigers face the Gators (13-14, 6-8 SEC), who are coming off a 70-63 loss to LSU, which Missouri defeated in its lone SEC win. Florida has lost five of its last six, with the losses coming by an average of 4.4 points.
“I’ve been around some really, really good teams, and I’ve been around some not-so-good teams, and the biggest thing as a coach is you try to pinpoint areas that you’ve got to get better in,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan, who has two national championships with the Gators. “… So, for me, being here and having some really exceptional teams, you understand exactly what makes up a good team and you understand exactly why you’re not so good of a team.”
Donovan said the commitment required to be a great team has been a challenge for his players.
“I think we’re still in the process of trying to figure out are we willing to make that kind of commitment?” he said. “Each and every possession, each and every day, each and every practice, each and every game.”
Florida will be without Michael Frazier II for the fifth straight game and Dorian Finney-Smith for a third straight contest. Frazier, who is recovering from a high ankle sprain, is averaging a team-high 13.2 points. Finney-Smith, who is suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules, is averaging 12.9 points and 5.8 rebounds this season.
Donovan would reach 500 wins as a Division I head coach with a victory today. Anderson is still trying for his eighth.
“I think anytime you’re in a rut, and we’re definitely in a rut, I think it’s hard sometimes for guys to stay focused,” Anderson said. “That’s something that over the next two weeks we’re trying to do. We’re trying to shorten our practice times a little bit and trying to maybe get guys fresh and maybe get their legs back and feel good. Maybe we can pull off an upset here in the last couple weeks.”