BOISE, Idaho -- When a Missouri player pumps his fist into the air, he’s not necessarily celebrating. It’s time for a breather.
Coach Mike Anderson’s “Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball” mentality doesn’t just wear down opponents. It takes a toll on his players, too.
That’s why junior guard Zaire Taylor said that Missouri’s best basketball comes when players are looking to take a seat on the bench.
“You always want to be in the game, but getting mad about it? That’s not what you want to do,” Taylor said. “That’s something that I think a lot of guys really matured with throughout the season.”
With the constant pressure that Missouri likes to swarm opponents with, Taylor said that the defense cannot afford any lethargic efforts.
“Guys are starting to say they're tired and they’ll come out,” he said. “Coach might not realize how tired you are until you give up two buckets in a row because you couldn’t play the defense that we needed you to play.”
The selfless mentality is something Anderson has preached all season, but trust like that takes time to develop.
“That’s the honor system we talk about,” Anderson said. “When you do that you’re playing on the best interest of the team. You know if you’re out there not giving everything you got, you got to trust your guys on the bench.”
And that’s exactly what the starters did in their first round game of the NCAA Tournament on Friday against Cornell. The Tiger bench played 53 minutes in the contest and put up 21 points, led by freshman guard Kim English who put up 13.
“That’s been the secret to our basketball team,” Anderson said. “These guys care and share. They’re starting more and more now to trust one another.
Marquette, the Tiger’s second round opponent, doesn’t share the depth that Missouri has. Three Golden Eagle starters played at least 37 minutes in their first game of the tournament, and only two bench players found the court, scoring two points.
But depth isn’t a major concern for Marquette, who intends to play its own brand of basketball on Sunday.
“I think that the guys will probably play the same minutes that they have been playing combined,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “I think I if you try to play the way that Missouri wants to play, Missouri will win.”
Instead, Williams will try and instill a steadier pace to the game, so his team can work methodically out of a half-court set, and find slashers going to the basket.
The Golden Eagles are coming off a 58-57 first-round win against a Utah State team that slowed things down with a set play call every possession. Marquette was just able to outlast the Aggies who made a second-half run thanks to the support of a partisan crowd.
“I don’t know that there are two teams diametrically opposed more so in the country than Utah State to Missouri,” Williams said. "And there was no team to compare Utah State to. But we had five days to prepare for them, so we had enough time to explain it all to them.”
Marquette faced pressure similar to Missouri’s in Big East play against Louisville, but Williams and his coaching staff have to get their team turned around in about 48 hours this time.
So as Marquette works to slow things down to its pace, Missouri will work to speed it up and force Marquette to put it some new personnel.
“The bench is probably the main difference between our team and other teams,” senior forward Leo Lyons said. “Our team, we mesh together and we mix it up every single day. Coach always says he’s trying to build 10-14 starters. He could throw anybody into the starting lineup at any time.”
The Tigers’ five starters will tip off at approximately 3:50 p.m. tomorrow from the Taco Bell Arena in Boise, Idaho. But it’s the depth that will give them a chance to advance to the Sweet 16 in Arizona.