Missouri travels to Arkansas for emotional tilt
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
COLUMBIA — There aren’t any holdovers from the Mike Anderson era on the Missouri Tigers’ roster.
That doesn’t mean the emotions won’t be running high when Missouri (15-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) faces its former coach and the Arkansas Razorbacks (13-6, 2-4 SEC) at 6 p.m. today at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Ark.
“When you worked at a place, obviously — I still have friends there — you’re going to have some emotional feelings from that standpoint, but more importantly, it’s a big game in conference play,” said Anderson, who went 111-56 in five years in Columbia while leading Missouri to three NCAA Tournament appearances. “… The emotional part of it also is I had some former players there, but those guys have moved on.”
While Missouri’s current players don’t have any connection to Anderson, the Tigers know what they’re getting into.
“There’s some tension between Arkansas and Missouri,” Missouri guard Jabari Brown said. “I’m looking forward to playing them. I like those type of games. They’re going to be riled up, we’re going to be riled up too.
“I feel like it is in the air a little bit. Last year when we went down there we heard a lot from their fans. I’m expecting the same this year.”
Brown acknowledged most of the comments from Arkansas fans weren’t fit to print, but did drop this gem.
“Somebody told me they were surprised I was playing basketball, they thought everybody from Oakland (Calif.) just shoots people. That was a good one. I just laughed at that one. That was a new one, I hadn’t heard that one before.”
Missouri head coach Frank Haith downplayed any notion of the emotional factor becoming a distraction, noting his Tigers have more pressing issues to worry about.
Like the the fact Arkansas rarely loses at home. The Razorbacks have won 25-of-26 games at Bud Walton Arena, including 11 of their last 12 SEC games. The lone loss in that stretch came Jan. 11 against No. 3 Florida.
Missouri is 0-6 all-time at Bud Walton Arena.
“I think about 19,000 folks in there, at least,” Haith offered as a reason for why Bud Walton is such a tough place to play. “They play with great energy in there. They press, they play physical in their building, they play one step faster in their building, as most teams do. … You have to handle all the exterior stuff when you play against them.”
Missouri fans should remember well Anderson’s patented “40 minutes of hell” style. The fast-paced, pressing defensive philosophy has paid off this season, as Arkansas ranks third in the nation by forcing turnovers on 24.4 percent of its opponents’ possessions.
“We’ve got to be ready,” Haith said. “On the road we haven’t had a team that will come after us like they will. I’m hopeful that we can handle it. With their press, you have to be aware of guys coming from behind and you have to meet passes and be strong with the ball because they’re going to be aggressive on the ball. You can’t allow them to knock the ball out of your hands, so you have to be aggressive and strong with that. When you have an opportunity to break it, you have to break it off the bounce. We’ve practiced it and hopefully we’ll do a good job against it.”
Today’s game marks the beginning of a daunting stretch for Missouri. Next up are No. 11 Kentucky at home, followed by games at No. 3 Florida and at Mississippi.
“I think they all are important,” Haith said. “You’re building your resume every time you lace them up and you can get a win.”
Arkansas doesn’t feature a go-to scorer, instead spreading out the offensive production. Six Razorbacks average between 7.0 and 12.6 points per game. Rashad Madden tops that list while hitting 47 percent of his 3-point attempts. Freshman Bobby Portis tosses in 11.9 ppg and 6.6 rebounds per contest while Michael Qualls rounds out three players in double figures at 11.4 ppg.
“When you watch them on tape, they all do everything,” Haith said. “They all shoot it. They all drive it. That’s difficult. You’ve just got to know who shoots it better and who drives it better. But they all do it. Everybody shoots 3s for them. If you look, everybody on their team has taken 3s (12-of-14 players have). Their percentages are not as good, but they could throw one in because that’s what they do. I think everybody plays with kind of freedom to play, and that’s difficult. You’ve just got to make sure our team defense is shrinking, jumping to the ball and blocking out and be consistent with that and having great closeouts.”
Brown continues to emerge as the top scorer for Missouri, averaging 19.5 ppg. Brown owns four straight games with 20-plus points. Maybe more impressive are the junior’s numbers in SEC play. Brown leads the league in scoring (22.0 ppg), field goal percentage (53.9) and 3-point percentage (55.3).
“I think Brown is playing as well as anybody in our conference right now,” Haith said. “I think he’s having an unbelievable run right now as far as how well he’s playing.”
Jordan Clarkson isn’t far off with 18.8 ppg while Earnest Ross rounds out the Big Three with 14.0 ppg.
“It’s definitely a luxury having three guys that can put the ball in the basket,” Haith said.
This upcoming stretch might go a long way in determining Missouri’s postseason fate. The run through the gauntlet begins tonight.
“It’d be nice to get two in a row. We haven’t done that yet, at least in league play,” Haith said. “This time of year, now you need to see some improvements. We’ve got great opportunities because we’re playing a lot of these teams that are in the top half of the league right now.”
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