Haith doesn’t pull any punches about Tigers’ lack of effort

Alex Oriakhi of Missouri reacts during the closing moments of Saturday night’s overtime loss to Kentucky in Lexington, Ky.

Alex Oriakhi of Missouri reacts during the closing moments of Saturday night’s overtime loss to Kentucky in Lexington, Ky. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA — Missouri coach Frank Haith has said all season the key to his team’s success lies on the defensive end.

It’s an area he’s gone out of his way to praise, especially after Missouri’s 63-60 victory against then-No. 5 Florida last week.

But Monday, Haith was pointed about how disappointed he was with the team’s defensive effort in Saturday’s 90-83 overtime loss at Kentucky.

“We had nobody play on that end of the court,” he said. “You don’t have anybody playing on that end of the court, you don’t have a chance. I can’t say one guy did. It’s effort, we didn’t defend.”

The Wildcats shot 65 percent in the second half and overtime, including 5-of-7 on 3-pointers.

Haith was more animated than normal when talking about his team’s effort Saturday night, saying it wasn’t there from anybody, a rare move for the coach.

“It’s effort, it’s effort,” Haith said. “It’s effort and I think you can’t be as good as we were against the best offensive team in the league in Florida, and then you go and you don’t compete like we need to compete against a Kentucky team that was playing very well.”

It was the second straight road game Missouri has allowed 44 points in the second half. Kentucky added 15 points in overtime to secure the win. Kentucky outrebounded Missouri 23-12 in the second half and overtime.

Haith said Missouri (19-8, 8-6 Southeastern Conference) didn’t do well on “50-50 balls” and there were multiple times the Tigers did not get back in time on defense.

He also sees a problem that some players are worrying too much about offense and it’s carrying over to the defensive end.

“Yeah, very frustrating,” Haith said. “Extremely frustrating. We can’t be the team we want to be. Surrender the me for we. You get into that point of the game in the second half and guys feel like they aren’t getting their shots and their touches, and therefore it’s affecting their efforts and what they are doing on the defensive end. It’s very disturbing.”

Haith sat point guard Phil Pressey in the first half after he took a quick shot, something he said he’s done recently with the junior.

The Tigers have settled on a mostly seven-man rotation now, meaning there aren’t a lot of other options than those on the floor.

 “The guys that are on the court are totally accountable for that,” forward Laurence Bowers said. “I thought Kentucky beat us to a lot of the 50-50 balls, a lot of the loose balls we should have come up with. That was a big part of the game. We’ve just got to get in here and change that mindset.”

The Tigers had a chance to win the game in regulation but couldn’t come up with a defensive stop as Kentucky tied the game with 40 seconds remaining.

“I’m pretty sure we’re disappointed,” center Alex Oriakhi said. “We had mental lapses when we let them get comfortable. I’m pretty sure coach Haith is disappointed with our defense as well as he should be. We needed that one stop at the end and we weren’t able to get it. He has every right to be disappointed. We should be disappointed in ourselves no matter if coach Haith is disappointed in us or not.”

With just four games remaining before the SEC Tournament, Missouri is in a three-way tie for fifth in the conference with Arkansas and Tennessee, and is likely on the bubble when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Haith knows his team has to get better in the final four games.

“We better be better than what we are,” Haith said. “Athletically, talent-wise, physically we can be good. We showed it. Against Florida we were terrific. I just think we can be good. It’s a mindset. It’s all about effort. Defense is all about effort.”

Haith added: “I haven’t seen anything consistently defensively. Consistency is what we want to see this time of year.”

Notes: Missouri is back in action Thursday at South Carolina (8 p.m. ESPN2-TV). The Gamecocks, who took Missouri to the wire in January before losing 71-65, are 13-14 overall and 3-11 in the SEC. … The top eight teams receive a bye while the top four get a double-bye in the conference tournament that begins March 13 in Nashville, Tenn.

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