This was it.
This was the game that would redeem Missouri’s season. Defeating Kansas alone would qualify as a good season for some, but add in the fact that the Tigers were on a two-game skid and staring at an even conference record with another loss, and the game seemed monumental for MU’s postseason fortunes.
The fans knew it. Before Mizzou Arena’s doors opened, the line of students snaked around the building, each one hoping to witness Missouri’s first victory over its rival in two years. They were ready.
The players overslept.
It’s been documented how this team excels at home while struggles (mightily) outside Columbia. What I tend to notice are the Tigers’ careless errors in hostile environments — it seems they get lost in the moment.
In front of the most raucous home crowd all season, everyone except Laurence Bowers and Marcus Denmon were again caught up in the moment.
There was 5-foot-10 inch Phil Pressey, whose best days are ahead of him, trying to dribble into three Jayhawks easily a foot taller than him. There was Ricardo Ratliffe failing to grab a rebound, then carelessly fouling the Jayhawk who outmuscled him for it. There were Justin Safford and Kim English lobbing up air balls despite having open looks.
And then there were more fouls.
I was a little surprised at Safford’s performance. If there were ever a game for him to succeed, it was this one. After being honored as the only senior on the team, during which his game against KU last year was highlighted, he came out flat. Just like everyone else, he settled for jump shots. He was complacent.
Which brings me to Ratliffe. Ricardo was billed as the interior presence Missouri needed to achieve consistent success. Despite asserting himself against lesser competition, he often shies away from more intimidating foes. Don’t get me wrong; his fade-away baby hook shot is a thing of beauty. But he rarely goes straight up or toward the basket to draw contact.
In fact, Ratliffe hasn’t attempted a free throw in Missouri’s last three games. Think about that.
Finally, there’s Kim English. We’ve seen him at his best (2009 NCAA Tournament), but why are his best days behind him? The problem, I think, is that he tries too hard. He expected to be the go-to guy on this team. But when the shots weren’t falling, he didn’t know what to do. He tried even harder, before attempting to figure out where he belonged on this team. And he still doesn’t know. English needs to take a step back (figuratively, not literally), and play sound fundamental basketball-enough with the fancy passes, off-balance jump shots, and ticky-tack fouls.
Move around. When the lane is open, take it. Don’t become complacent. Don’t think that others are just going to become open. Do something. You are a part of a motion offense.
There is a degree of predictability to the Big 12 referees. When Kansas was drawing many a foul to start the second half, I knew the Tigers would get their turn, especially at home. But the team never took advantage until it was too late. They settled, just as they have in previous losses.
Despite a similar record last year, I still felt optimistic about Missouri’s chances in the postseason because of their style of play. This year, I don’t hold that same level of optimism. Maybe it’s because the team has such a schizophrenic behavior. Maybe it’s because their upperclassmen have regressed.
Or maybe it’s because when the Tigers are on the big stage, they look lost.