Struggling Mizzou looks for quick start in Big 12

Saturday, January 5, 2002

Tigers try to restore confidence after snapping three-game losing streak.

By R.B. Fallstrom ~ The Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri coach Quin Snyder is ready for the Big 12 season to begin, even if his players might not be.

"We need to play good teams and there are a lot of good teams," Snyder said. "We're a team that has to play in order for us to get the most out of us."

The 17th-ranked Tigers (10-3) open conference play at home today against Nebraska (7-4). Missouri has a decent chance to start the Big 12 season 4-0 with road games at Iowa State and Kansas State and a home game against Texas A&M to follow.

"We've got to be ready," center Arthur Johnson said. "It's here."

A quick start in the conference would be a confidence boost for a team that snapped a three-game losing streak with a 74-47 victory over Coppin State on Wednesday. The Tigers have three sophomore starters and sixth man Rickey Paulding also is a sophomore, and Snyder believes the youth showed in losses to Iowa, Illinois and DePaul.

Perhaps adding to the problem, the Iowa loss came during final exams and the Illinois loss was on Dec. 22 in St. Louis.

"Maybe a more mature team could have handled it better, but even the lessons we were able to learn from each game were kind of fleeting because you're studying chemistry," Snyder said. "Then you've got to play another game and Santa's on your roof.

"We got some stuff for Christmas: We got coal in our stocking."

Forward Kareem Rush, who scored 23 points against Coppin State to break out of a three-game shooting slump, actually drew some positives from the drought.

"I think the three-game losing streak actually helped us in the long run," Rush said. "We practiced harder and got back to the basics as far as defense goes."

Snyder doesn't seem to mind his team's struggles. Missouri was No. 2 before the losing streak.

"That's good, that's the reality check our kids need," Snyder said. "I don't say that in putting them down, that's our youth."

Snyder was pleased how Missouri played with patience against Coppin State, even though it was inferior competition. He complimented Rush and Clarence Gilbert for making the extra pass.

"You watch us play, we don't have the Globetrotter circle going out there," Snyder said. "That's something we work on, but it's not real natural for some of our guys to find people."

He says the Tigers still need to learn how to play as a team.

"Our kids have to hold each other accountable," Snyder said. "They need to see themselves as a unit. It's not like everybody gets a penalty kick.

"I think we're starting to understand that better, but it's a fragile thing."

Missouri was shorthanded against Coppin State and could be minus a few players against Nebraska. Forward Justin Gage has a hip flexor sprain and Snyder wasn't certain whether forward Jeffrey Ferguson would be able to clear immigration in time in Canada. Paulding missed the Coppin State game due to the death of his grandmother, but is expected back.

Nebraska (7-4) is coming off a 66-47 victory over Savannah State on Wednesday. The Cornhuskers hit 13 3-pointers in the game, one off the school record.

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