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Missouri prepared to defend the 3 against Vanderbilt

Missouri prepared to defend the 3 against Vanderbilt

February 19th, 2014 in News

Vanderbilt leading scorer Rod Odom drives to the basket during a game against Mississippi State earlier this month in Nashville, Tenn.

Photo by The Associated Press /News Tribune.

COLUMBIA - Frank Haith doesn't want to see a repeat.

Not the process, certainly not the result.

Missouri (18-7, 6-6 Southeastern Conference) gets a chance to avenge a Jan. 16 loss at Vanderbilt (14-10, 6-6 SEC) when the Tigers close out a three-game homestand against the Commodores at 7 p.m. today at Mizzou Arena (KMIZ-TV).

"Huge game for us in terms of league race, playing a Vanderbilt team that's tied with you - actually they're ahead of you because they've already beaten you," the third-year Missouri head coach said. "They've won (five) out of their last (seven). It'll be a really good challenge for us (tonight). I have a lot of respect for their team and the way they play. We've got to be ready to play."

Vanderbilt won the first meeting 78-75 in Nashville. It wasn't just the result that concerned Haith, it was the way it happened.

"Well, they made a lot of 3s against us," Haith said, referencing Vanderbilt's 12 made 3-pointers, an alarming number considering the Commodores rank 13th in the SEC by hitting just 29.6 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc in league games. "Their numbers are not great in terms of what they're doing in league play, but they made a lot of 3s against us, particularly (Rod) Odom, who's the one guy that's been consistent. But we know (Dai-Jon) Parker and (Kyle) Fuller both can make 3s, and we've got to do a good job of getting back, setting our defense and not letting them be comfortable making a lot of 3s. And that's how teams can beat you - when they get going making a lot of 3s."

Missouri ranks 11th in the SEC in 3-point percentage defense, allowing opponents to hit 35.4 percent of their shots from long range. The Tigers saw that ranking rise from 14th following their 75-70 victory against Tennessee on Saturday, a game where the Volunteers connected on just 4-of-21 3-point attempts.

"They have a lot of actions that you have to guard," Missouri guard Jabari Brown said of Vanderbilt's perimeter shooters. "It's tough. You can't be out of position or they'll burn you like they did last game down there."

Odom is the big threat from deep. The senior forward leads Vanderbilt with 14.7 points per game while hitting 42 percent of his 3-point shots. He made six 3s in that Jan. 16 game.

"Rod's a guy that works incredibly hard on his game," Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said. "He's been one of the best workers in the offseason that we've ever had here. He just spent an inordinate amount of time in the gym working on his shooting. His ability to shoot the ball has improved so greatly since he's been here. Now he's a threat from deep and he's got range from behind the line."

Fuller adds 12.1 ppg but hits only 27 percent of his 3s. Parker connects on 34 percent of his treys but only averages 6.9 ppg.

"We have to have an understanding of where those guys are at on the court and doing our work early and running those guys off the 3-point line," Haith said.

Damian Jones, a 6-foot-10 freshman forward, adds 11.2 ppg and a team-high 5.8 rebounds per contest.

The fact Vanderbilt is tied for fifth in the SEC with Missouri, LSU and Tennessee is an accomplishment in and of itself. Due to several suspensions and injuries, the Commodores are down to just seven scholarship players. Three starters average at least 30 minutes, while the other two starters play around 25 minutes per game.

"Kevin's done a great job, but their five starters are really good, though," Haith said. "Those five guys are really good players. I think Damian is one of the better big kids, in terms of a young kid in our league. He's tremendous. He's going to have a terrific career. But their five starters are very good, and Rod is having an outstanding year, too, but there's no question Kevin's done a tremendous job."

Missouri features a couple players having outstanding years as well, led by Brown. The 6-foot-5 sharpshooter is second in the SEC at 20.5 ppg. The junior connects on 50 percent of his field-goal attempts and 46 percent of his 3-point attempts.

"Jabari Brown is playing as well as any guard in the country," Haith said. "His numbers say that. He's been a clutch performer for us. ... He's been a guy that's kind of quiet so he's not a demonstrative player. He just does his job. ... I think Jabari is having a tremendous, tremendous year for us.

"... Jabari just has to continue to play, and we have to continue to win. I think winning helps that. I do know in terms of what he does for us, we just want him to keep doing it. I don't know if he can do more than he's already doing."

Point guard Jordan Clarkson is in the midst of a special year as well, averaging 18.7 ppg and 3.4 assists per contest. Earnest Ross rounds out three Tigers in double figures with 14.2 ppg.

Missouri hits the road Saturday against Alabama. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.