Mizzou At the Semester
(St. Louis, MO) – The spring semester just started, and the Missouri Tigers are already struggling to make the grade.
Saturday afternoon’s home date vs. Tennessee ostensibly provided a good opportunity to reverse fortunes in the SEC classroom. But a string of empty possessions down the stretch, coupled with the Volunteers’ stout zone defense, ultimately conspired against Kim Anderson’s crew in a 59-51 defeat.
While by no means the utter disaster that recently unfolded in Lexington, it was yet another failed assignment. And the toll being taken on the program is impossible to ignore.
The Tigers (7-10) now possess their worst record through 17 games since 1978-79. That bunch, which featured Larry Drew, Steve Wallace, Curtis Berry, rallied to finish 8-6 in Big 8 action.
Don’t necessarily expect a comparable late-season surge from the current roster wearing black and gold. Even the typically amiable man at the helm sounded despondent over the weekend.
“I said a few weeks ago this team needs something good to happen,” Anderson said following MU’s third straight loss. “We beat LSU and now we’re in a rut again.”
That overtime victory over Johnny Jones’ Tigers seems dreadfully long ago, indeed, especially considering the subsequent flops. Rather than use its league-opening triumph on January 8 as a stepping stone toward bigger and better developments, Missouri has reverted to the inconsistency that defined a maddening nonconference schedule. Seizing a sizable second-half lead at Auburn, only to collapse in the waning moments, cannot happen. Getting throttled by 49 points, regardless of Kentucky’s preposterous talent, is unacceptable.
Then there’s the equally troubling instance of dropping a wholly winnable affair in Columbia. Mizzou absolutely came apart at the seams when the Vols truly hunkered down defensively, with freshman Tramaine Isabell committing two costly turnovers during the game’s most critical sequence.
“I thought we handled the press until the end, which is exactly what it’s designed to do,” Anderson said. “You can’t pick the ball up at halfcourt because they’re just going to swarm you. And that’s what they did.”
Well before Isabell’s miscues, though, the vexing plays outnumbered the positive ones. Namon Wright risked negating his team-high 13 points by jacking up several ill-advised shots from behind the arc. The Tigers looked timid inside, attempting a mere six free throws. Montaque Gill-Caesar never established a rhythm in his return from back spasms.
Worse still, the squad’s leading scorer went missing for a prolonged period. Jonathan Williams III mustered nary a bucket in the second half as Tennessee iced the contest. According to the head coach, however, the sophomore power forward had precious little control over what transpired.
“We talked about it in the huddle: J3 is open,” Anderson said. “We’ve got to get him the ball. But, you know, I’m not out there playing either. We needed to get inside and we didn’t.”
Mizzou frankly needs countless things right now, beginning with better habits in practice throughout the week. Anderson continues to bemoan this group’s lack of readiness. Poor focus earned Isabell a place on the pine, in fact, for the first 35 minutes vs. the Volunteers.
Fans and pundits alike must ponder the inevitable question: When might the message finally take effect? Frank Haith encountered similar issues in his last year on the job. Nonetheless, Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown kept matters reasonably afloat. At the very least, their superior talent allowed the Tigers to remain amid a complete chemistry breakdown.
Anderson doesn’t boast such blue-chip talent. His refreshingly simple tenets – offensive balance and tenacious D – almost belong to a bygone era, suiting every skill level. The teachings just haven’t translated into results thus far.
Ready or not, though, MU’s next exam comes Wednesday at 11-5 Texas A&M. It’s anybody’s guess as to whether the Tigers’ plentiful youth will revolt once again or start enacting a serious study plan.