Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri men’s basketball team begins conference play Wednesday at Georgia and it couldn’t come at a better time for Wes Clark.
The junior guard is coming off a career-high 22-point performance against Savannah State, which bested a 21-point night just nine days earlier.
“Certainly I hope that Wes will continue to play at that level that he has played at,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “And I hope that other guys will help him out.”
Prior to Missouri’s Dec. 23 game against Illinois, Clark was shooting just 24-of-79 (30.4 percent) from the field. In his last three games, he has made 20-of-33 attempts (60.6 percent), with an 11-point performance against Arkansas-Pine Bluff sandwiched between his two 20-point nights.
“He’s been on fire these past three games,” freshman Terrence Phillips said. “So going in for me as a point guard that loves to pass, we’ve got to get Wes the ball, get him off to a good start, especially on (the) road.
“Because on the road, shooting is really just a confidence thing. You see one go through and you get a little more confidence. You see two or three go through and it could be a whole different ball game. So for me as a point guard, getting him the ball early in great positions and in great spots is going to be a big factor going into this road game.”
Clark, who was not made available to the media Monday, missed the last eight games of his sophomore season after dislocated his right elbow. As a right-handed shooter, Clark is still dealing with some “nicks and nacks” in the elbow, he said after the Illinois game, but it is now “for the most part 100 percent.”
“(It doesn’t) necessarily affect the shots,” he said before Missouri’s Dec. 9 game against Omaha, “but sometimes it may mess with me a little mentally. Sometimes I might think about it, but I don’t think it’s really had too much of an effect. … It just changes the pace a little bit for me. It changes my feel. It’s not the same. But I try to make it up in other areas like playing defense and getting rebounds and things like that.”
Clark said he is taking the same shots as he was earlier in the season. They’re just falling now — something he expected to come around when he was still struggling to make shots.
“It definitely will,” he said then. “I still make shots on a regular basis when I shoot (in practice) and stuff, so I can get a feel for it. It’s just a little different for me at times.”
Missouri will need Clark as a scoring weapon now that it is entering Southeastern Conference play. Clark and freshman Kevin Puryear (10.1 and 11.8 ppg) are the only players averaging double-digit scoring totals for the Tigers, who host Auburn on Saturday after playing Georgia.
“I think we really need a consistent scorer and a guy that can fill it up every night,” senior Ryan Rosburg said. “So I mean we just want (Clark) to keep doing what he’s been doing.”
Clark’s change in fortune on the court has been noticeable in the locker room as well.
“He’s a little more loose. I can honestly say that,” Phillips said. “I think the first few games he was really uptight. I don’t know what that was with him, but the past few games he’s been a little more loose and he’s laughing and joking in the locker room a lot more.
“I know that’s just him happening to play well, but I’m loving him right now. I’ve always loved him, but I love the way he’s playing right now.”