Much to his displeasure, Missouri senior guard Kim English and his teammates had the day off following Saturday’s crushing defeat in Lawrence, Kan., where a 19-point second-half advantage in the Border Showdown was relinquished into an 87-86 overtime loss to then-No. 5 Kansas.
Coach Frank Haith’s idea to give his players a day away from practice came from the drained emotions he detected in the locker room Saturday night.
“It needed some time,” Haith said.
English needed something — anything — to fill that time. His therapy attempts: putting shots up at Mizzou Arena, watching movies while avoiding ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and going on a walk.
“I saw some geese,” he said, making those around him chuckle. “And I was wondering if those geese were from Minnesota or something. Canada? Is this (their) south? Or are these Missouri geese that didn’t migrate because it’s so warm here? I didn’t know. So that kind of got my mind off things.”
Recovering from a loss that was tougher than any English said he’s experienced is not an easy task. Before walking through the doors of the locker room Monday and into the Albrecht Family Practice Facility inside Mizzou Arena, English gave his teammates the first instructions on a day focused on Wednesday’s game with visiting Iowa State.
“I just told the guys in the locker room we’re not going to talk about it any more,” English said. “We’re not gonna dwell on the play that didn’t happen, that could’ve happened, that should’ve happened. … Iowa State is the most important game of the season.”
When the Cyclones (21-8, 11-5 Big 12 Conference) travel to Columbia, they will meet a team coming off its first two-game losing streak of its season, having presumably just surrendered hopes of a Big 12 crown to its rival after breaking huddles with “1 … 2 … 3 … Champions” since June.
With Kansas City’s Big 12 Tournament approaching and teams across the country jostling for placements in the NCAA bracket, The No. 7 Tigers (25-4, 12-4 Big 12) could make a strong statement for a No. 2 seed with a victory.
“It’s an extremely important game,” Haith said. “You’re playing for seeds in the conference tournament and for the NCAA Tournament. We’ve got to stay focused on how we’ve handled things all year, and that’s focusing on the next game.”
Haith, whose team won 76-69 on Jan. 11 at Hilton Coliseum in snowy Ames, Iowa, said that Iowa State is playing the best it has season, coming off a 65-61 win at Kansas State.
Royce White, standing 6 feet, 8 inches and 270 pounds, has presented matchup terrors to opponents all season while leading his team in points, assists and rebounds. An undersized English will look to neutralize White as he has done all season to opposing big men.
“He’s different,” English said. “When I’m guarding him, (Iowa State coach) Fred (Hoiberg) just puts him right on the block. When big guys are guarding him, he puts him on the wing. He’s a different kind of player. It’s fun to play against him.”
The game is the final home match of the season, the senior night celebration of English and the four-year bunch that has 102 wins under its belts, the most of any class in school history. With two remaining frames left on the regular season, it will mark the end of a stunning year for Missouri, a squad that opened eyes behind the command of a first year coach.
Haith credited his veteran group, the players who bought in to his style, for the season’s success.
“Not all veteran teams win, especially when you have transition,” Haith said. “You have a new coaching staff with different philosophies. (Them buying in) definitely was a concern.”
Perhaps the most notable low the team felt before the Kansas loss was in the preseason, when senior forward Laurence Bowers tore his ACL in practice, marking the end of his season. But that was when an adjustment took place and English began practicing as a forward in a four-guard lineup.
“That guy’s had to come in and battle and do something a lot different than he expected to do his senior year,” Haith said.
So, that Monday, the team watched film of the Kansas loss and perhaps made adjustments to prepare for its next game the way it’s done all season — just as geese make their decisions based on what feels right.