Lineup switch gets Tigers' attention

Monday, January 5, 2004

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri coach Quin Snyder's lineup shake-up brought the desired result, and he threatened to do it again if it'll keep his team on track.

The No. 23 Tigers (5-4) ended a puzzling three-game losing streak in which they fell behind by 21 points to Illinois, by 15 to Memphis and 10 to Belmont, then staged furious rallies that fell just short, with a dominating 76-56 victory over Iowa on Saturday. Linas Kleiza and Travon Bryant both missed double-doubles by one rebound to make up for poor games from stars Arthur Johnson and Rickey Paulding.

To get his team's attention, Snyder benched Johnson for the first time since Feb. 27, 2002, at Texas Tech, and benched senior guard Josh Kroenke. Snyder replaced those two with Kevin Young and freshman Thomas Gardner.

"I'm going to start a different lineup every game, how's that?" Snyder said. "It shouldn't matter who starts.

"We had a lineup that I left in for a while because they were winning, they were playing great, and it's going to change from game to game."

Johnson, who entered averaging a team-leading 14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds, drew three quick fouls in the first half and finished with four points, three rebounds and two blocked shots. Kroenke had started the first eight games of the season, but his playing time has been decreasing since fellow guards Jason Conley and Randy Pulley became eligible at the semester break.

At the least, Snyder has plenty of options heading into the Big 12 opener Wednesday at Iowa State.

"I don't know who's going to start on Wednesday," Snyder said. "We'll see who comes to work tomorrow at 8 a.m."

On Saturday, it was Kleiza with 18 points to match his career best and nine rebounds, and Bryant with 14 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots. But Bryant had only two points and two rebounds against Belmont and Kleiza had only one point and four rebounds two games ago against Memphis.

"We've gotten great fire out of both of them," Snyder said. "Also, we've lost them for times. We lost Travon the last game and he knows it. That's the challenge, that's the consistency."

Missouri hit rock bottom in a four-point upset loss to Belmont on Tuesday. The Tigers had been No. 3 in mid-December, but have been learning that talent isn't enough.

Johnson said players' renewed commitment was reflected in practices the rest of the week.

"It wasn't happy-go-lucky," Johnson said. "We were getting after it and having tough practices, and that's what it's going to take."

Iowa (7-3) was on the receiving end of Missouri's frustration on Saturday, fading after cutting the deficit to three points at the start of the second half. Pierre Pierce had 20 points for the Hawkeyes, who begin Big Ten play Wednesday at home against Purdue.

"We weren't ready to play at the start of the second half," forward Glen Worley said. "They came out with urgency, they knew they had to get this game."

More tough times lay ahead for the Tigers before their next game, the Big 12 conference opener Wednesday night at Iowa State.

"We've been going two-a-days since Christmas, and we're going to keep going two-a-days because we need the practice," Snyder said. "We missed a lot of practice time in December and it shows.

"We're still getting to know each other."

Players know they're not completely out of the woods yet.

"We still have to grow as a team," Paulding said. "It's just one game and we did it at home, which is a little easier.

"Now our test is to take it on the road, and just do it every night."

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