Anderson seeks leaders in MU's stretch run

Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Missouri's Keon Lawrence called a play during Saturday's 60-53 victory over Colorado in Columbia, Mo. (L.G. PATTERSON ~ Associated Press)

Missouri still has a chance to gain a bye in Big 12 tournament.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- As Missouri attempts to climb the Big 12 standings and earn a potential first-round bye in the conference tournament next month, it is still trying to find leaders that will take it there.

An up-and-down conference season has Missouri in a three-way tie for eighth place in the conference, but only one game back from four teams tied for fourth place.

With four games left in the regular season, coach Mike Anderson said if the Tigers want to finish fourth in the conference, which would be awarded with a first-round bye at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, it needs to find a couple players willing to take control.

"That's what we want to find out," Anderson said. "We may have to go with the youth guys, or do it by committee."

The Tigers (15-12, 5-7) play Oklahoma State (14-12, 5-7) tonight. The most likely candidate to emerge as a team leader seems to be Keon Lawrence. The sophomore guard scored 16 points in Saturday's 60-53 win over Colorado, his fifth double-digit scoring effort in the last six games.

Since the departure of leading scorer Stefhon Hannah, who was dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules two weeks ago, and the nagging ankle injury of DeMarre Carroll, Lawrence's presence has been needed much more for the Tigers.

"Keon, he's talking even more out on the floor," Anderson said. "Who will be that ultimate leader? I think we'll find out as we go."

Lawrence, who has started the last seven games, knows the importance of the final four games, including tonight's game against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are tied with Missouri and Nebraska for eighth place in the conference, and they are coming off a 61-60 upset of then-No. 4 Kansas on Saturday.

"They're going to have a lot of confidence coming in after a big win," Lawrence said. "They're hot right now. We had a week off so we were a little sluggish, but hopefully we got that out of our system."

Oklahoma State has rebounded from losing six straight last month to win four of its last five, including the last two over ranked teams. In those wins Byron Eaton has averaged more than 20 points.

The senior guard averages just 11 points, but has responded to a late-season challenge by coach Shawn Sutton.

"I spent a lot of time talking to Byron, that he had to play up to his potential and like a big-time player," Sutton said.

Oklahoma State and Missouri are in similar situations, in that both are attempting to make runs at a first-round bye in the conference tournament, and an invite to a postseason tournament.

Missouri, just 2-3 in February, plays its final four games against teams standing no better than fourth place in the conference. And in the final two weeks the Tigers are going to stick to Anderson's "one-day-at-a-time" mantra.

"I know that sounds kind of basic, but with this particular team, we have to be," Anderson said. "This team has changed over the course of the season."

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