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Missouri starting to settle into seven-player rotation

Laurence Bowers of Missouri tries to track down the ball between Misssissippi’s Jarvis Summers (left) and Marshall Henderson during Saturday afternoon’s game at Mizzou Arena.

Laurence Bowers of Missouri tries to track down the ball between Misssissippi’s Jarvis Summers (left) and Marshall Henderson during Saturday afternoon’s game at Mizzou Arena. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA — With only seven scholarship players last season, it didn’t take long for players to find their roles for the Missouri basketball team. If for no other reason, they had no choice.

With a plethora of depth this season thanks to 11 new players, it’s taken longer for Missouri’s players to find where they fit in.

From that standpoint, things may be finally coming together.

As the Tigers head down the home stretch of conference play, players have started to establish more set roles, most notably with what appears to be a seven-man rotation.

“You know pretty much when you’re going to be in the game, you know when coach is going to call on you,” forward Laurence Bowers said. “You kind of prepare better. I think just having seven key guys ... it really helps us because all those guys are experienced, except Jabari (Brown) I believe.”

Missouri coach Frank Haith alluded to a seven-man rotation following Saturday’s 98-79 win against Mississippi. In that game the rotation of Bowers, Alex Oriakhi, Phil Pressey, Keion Bell, Brown, Tony Criswell and Earnest Ross played nearly the entire game.

Those seven combined for all 98 of Missouri’s points.

It’s been a similar rotation of late. The same seven took up most of Missouri’s minutes Thursday against Texas A&M and against Auburn the previous game.

Haith said Monday he still can get valuable minutes out of other players who have contributed at times this season, most notably early on.

“It depends on the game and if guys are in foul trouble,” Haith said. “That’s not to say we won’t see Ryan Rosburg or Negus (Webster-Chan) or Stefan Yankovic in the games. The beauty of it is they’ve played minutes in the SEC and they’ve had court time. I don’t want it to be etched in stone we are going to only play those seven guys, because I do think there will be (times) based on the situation where we could see those other three guys.”

Injuries and the unfamiliarity with each other has slowed that process. The Tigers were without Bowers, Bell and Criswell for extended periods of time this season.

But as the Tigers have healed, roles have become more defined. Ross has become the sixth man for the Tigers, playing the role of Michael Dixon from last season.

Ross has responded, averaging 10.5 points and five rebounds per game. After starting the first nine games, he’s come off the bench since.

Most notably though, Bell has seemed to become Missouri’s second ball handler, taking pressure off Pressey.

“That’s huge for us when he’s out there, knowing he’s got positive things happening,” Haith said. “He’s more and more comfortable at No. 1. ... He’s making good decisions. He’s obviously very confident in what he’s doing and he’s playmaking, but I like the other things. He defends, he’s guarding.”

Haith noted it has taken Bell awhile to find a comfort zone.

“He was just not comfortable yet,” Haith said. “Comfortable and confident, not wanting to turn the ball over. I go back to the Bahamas and he’s night and day different than where he was in the Bahamas right now.”

Notes: Missouri hits the road again Wednesday at Mississippi State (7 p.m.-KMIZ-TV). The Bulldogs have just six scholarship players and eight total players for the game. The Tigers then play Saturday at Arkansas.

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