Tigers play first true road game against No. 6 Cowboys

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- For a coach who hasn't lost yet in conference play, Missouri's Quin Snyder has a lot of questions about his team's focus.

And with a trip to No. 6 Oklahoma State looming, the Tigers have little time to answer them.

Missouri opened its Big 12 Conference season with a 62-59 victory over Iowa State on Saturday -- but after the Tigers saw a 13-point second-half lead turn into a 12-point deficit before rallying to win, Snyder wasn't happy.

"I thought we were soft; we didn't want to compete," he said. "You could see it out there. Guys were not thinking about the right stuff that has made this team fun to coach the last couple of weeks."

Missouri will need a more consistent effort tonight.

The Cowboys (11-1, 1-0 Big 12) average 81.6 points per game and have two players, John Lucas and Joey Graham, who average more than 18 points per game.

The Tigers (9-5, 1-0 Big 12) have won seven of their last nine, allowing just 59.3 points per game over that span.

"When we get after it defensively, you end up making more plays offensively," Snyder said. "It's not being in the right frame of mind."

Missouri can recover, forward Linas Kleiza said.

"We were a little bit soft on the defense, but we're young. We learn on the fly," Kleiza said. "We've got to go through something like that and learn from it if we want to be real good down the road."

Tonight's matchup will be the Tigers' first road game of the season -- and it will come in one of college basketball's most hostile environments, Gallagher-Iba Arena. Missouri has played three neutral-court games this year -- and lost all three.

But swingman Jason Conley, who has averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds the past three games, said the Tigers are not ready to concede a loss at Gallagher-Iba.

"Nobody wins there, that's how it is," he said. "There are teams that actually go down to play them and say, 'You know what? Let's just consider this a loss.' That's not how we feel about it."

The Cowboys have won two in a row after a 78-75 loss to then-No. 12 Gonzaga on Dec. 28 in Oklahoma City. Missouri upset the Bulldogs 63-61 in Columbia two days later.

Coach Eddie Sutton said the Tigers' improved defense could make up for their youth.

"Their staff has just done a remarkable job as far as their defensive play," Sutton said. "I think that's one reason that they've improved the last few games. I hope that freshman guard, (Jason) Horton, will have the shakes a little bit, but he's a very talented player."

The Tigers' winning rally against Iowa State should give them some extra energy against the Cowboys, Kleiza said.

"When we came back, we were just building some momentum going to Okie State," he said. "If we're going to win, we have to play perfect."

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