Watkins tries to guide dispirited Tigers

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Tigers' interim coach faces a difficult situation.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- As Missouri tries to salvage what's left of its season, interim coach Melvin Watkins has seen the spark fade in his players' eyes.

Nowhere was this more evident than in Tuesday's 54-51 loss to Texas A&M. The Tigers (11-13, 4-9 Big 12) led for most of the game, but scored four points in the final 11:30 to open the door for the Aggies to steal a win.

"I didn't like what I saw in our guys' eyes," Watkins said. "They looked like, 'Coach, we want to give it but it's hard to dig down and give all that we need to get the win.'"

After the game, senior Jimmy McKinney, who missed a layup with 40 seconds left that would have given Missouri the lead, admitted he was worn out.

"I was so exhausted and I don't know why," he said. "It shouldn't have an effect on me. I should have hit the shots that came to me. They were easy shots. They were shots that I wanted. They were shots that our team wanted."

It seems as though the long season and countless distractions, including the resignation of coach Quin Snyder and subsequent investigations into what prompted his departure, are taking their toll on the Tigers. Missouri has lost eight of nine and is 11th in the Big 12 with three games remaining, including today's game at Colorado.

"It's the toughest year yet," senior center Kevin Young said.

And players admit that it's only getting tougher as fatigue sets in and practices run longer. On top of that, Watkins has been changing the offense more to his liking.

"It's been hard adjusting, especially this far into the season," guard Jason Horton said. "But I think we're doing a good job, for the most part, adjusting because it's basically like we're starting from Day 1 again."

Watkins said he isn't able to do everything he'd like to at this point in the season, but he has put in some new sets to improve the team's timing on offense.

"I know this time of year normally you're not doing this but who knew we'd be where we are at this point in the year?" Watkins said.

Mental and physical exhaustion aside, players say they're not giving up.

"That's the one thing about me, even if I'm tired I'm still going to go out and give my all," McKinney said. "I'm going to give whatever I've got left."

Horton said Missouri is looking to gain some confidence entering the Big 12 Tournament, where the Tigers hope they can make a run to keep their season alive.

"As long as we've still got games, we're going to fight because we're not only playing for this year, we're playing for next year and whatever else the future might hold," Horton said.

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