Paulding rediscovers shot, aggressiveness

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Midway through what was beginning to look like a lost senior season, Rickey Paulding has rediscovered his game.

Much of the season, Missouri's senior guard has leaned heavily on his jump shot with so-so results. That contributed to an underwhelming start for the Tigers, who began the season ranked fifth in the nation but are 8-7 overall and 3-2 in the Big 12 heading into tonight's game at Colorado.

Paulding was a slasher again in Saturday's 72-51 victory over Nebraska, leading the Tigers with 19 points and helping them avoid falling below .500. Twice he drove the baseline for a basket and a three-point play. His second-half steal and breakaway led to two of his six free throws, part of a perfect day from the line, and he had only one 3-pointer.

"Everybody's been telling me just drive to the basket," Paulding said. "I guess one day the light clicked on. I just want to keep being aggressive."

Paulding is Missouri's leading scorer with a 16.4-point average. He's second on the team with three assists per game and fourth in rebounding with 4.6 per game. But he knows he could be doing a lot more.

Earlier in the season, Paulding found himself shooting about 35 percent and feeling the weight of Missouri's miserable start. Both he and senior Arthur Johnson passed up a shot at the NBA draft to return as seniors and both have admitted struggling to live up to expectations.

Paulding missed all nine of his shots in a win at home over Iowa earlier this month. In December he was 4-for-15 at Indiana, 8-for-29 against Gonzaga and 3-for-11 at Memphis.

For the season he's shooting only 33 percent from 3-point range, a dropoff from 39 percent last season and 44 percent as a sophomore.

"We thought we were the leaders and we wanted to make it work so bad," Paulding said. "You try to force things.

"For whatever reason, it wasn't clicking for us and it wasn't going for me," he added. "I kind of lost what got me success."

He's become more effective outside by pressing the attack inside. In the last four games he's shooting 50 percent, making up for still-inconsistent shooting from 3-point range by scoring closer to the basket, and has averaged 19 points during that stretch.

"When that's his primary focus, whether it be by feeding the ball or driving, I think his reads have been better," Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. "He's not living and dying with the jump shot.

"He's making a lot of things happen and it puts a lot of pressure on the defense when he plays that way."

Paulding isn't all the way back yet. He got to the line 12 times against Texas last week, but missed five free throws in the final four minutes of regulation and overtime, as Missouri lost.

But Nebraska saw Paulding with everything clicking. He also led the Tigers with three assists.

"When Ricky's on, we're on," Johnson said. "Ricky's our leader and when he's got it going it's fun for everybody."

The game against Colorado (10-6, 2-3) is the start of a stretch in which Missouri will play three of four on the road. The Tigers are home against Kansas State on Saturday, then travel to Kansas Feb. 2 and Nebraska Feb. 7.

Missouri is 50-10 against Colorado at home and 26-30 on the road, although the Tigers have won three of the last four in Boulder, Colo. They lost by 21 points last February, though, at Colorado.

"They're all huge for us," Snyder said. "Colorado on the road, that's one of the top teams in our league and winning there is very difficult.

"We have to keep our focus on where it's been, and that's guarding."

Colorado shot 29 percent in a 78-57 loss at Kansas on Sunday.

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