Missouri finds source of motivation

The Tigers kept the loss in mind as they won four of five games.

Missouri senior guard J.T. Tiller makes a layup as Texas freshman guard Avery Bradley goes up to block Wednesday at Mizzou Arena. Since losing to Texas A&M on Feb. 3, the Tigers have won four of their last five games.

With its 20th win Saturday, Missouri moved into a tie with Texas A&M for third place in the Big 12. By finishing the season as a top four team in the conference, the Tigers would secure a first round bye in the Big 12 Tournament.

The road to Kansas City still provides plenty of challenges for Missouri. After Colorado visits Mizzou Arena on Wednesday, the team will take trips to Kansas State and Iowa State before closing the regular season at home against Kansas on March 6.

"In this league, different teams react differently to different teams," sophomore guard Kim English said. "Sometimes it's like a boxing match. There are clashing styles."

In their past five games, the Tigers have knocked out four of their opponents, with the lone exception coming from Baylor on Feb. 13. The run was started after the team's 32-game winning streak was snapped by Texas A&M on Feb. 3.

"I think we just took our eye off the prize for a little bit," senior guard J.T. Tiller said. "But the experience is starting to kick in now. Looking back at old films, and listening to the coach's point of view, and just seeing what we did last year to become a strong team in the second half, we're bringing that this year."

English said the loss to Texas A&M spurred that strong push by the Tigers. In the games that followed, Missouri has played with the resilience typically portrayed by a Mike Anderson-coached team.

"The loss to Texas A&M was huge," English said. "Ten guys on this team had never lost at home. We felt like somebody came into our house and stole something precious. That really made us refocus and play the kind of basketball that we know we're capable of playing."

Although the loss was tough on the team, Tiller saw its benefit in the long run.

"We really took it to heart when we lost at home and killed our strong atmosphere here," Tiller said. "We still have it, but it took us down a little humbleness level. But it showed us that we still have to work hard, and we make the environment that it is here at Mizzou Arena."

That style of play relies heavily on defense. In the five-game span, teams have found it harder to score on Missouri. The defensive pressure has forced opponents to commit an average of 15 turnovers and allowed the Tigers to snatch 7.2 steals per game. Although those numbers are down slightly from the season averages, Missouri has taken advantage of its opportunities.

"It's the mindset of wanting to finish a game," Tiller said. "We want to finish how we start the games. We've been starting the game very well these past couple of games. We just want to take that into the second half and finish off strong. That was something that was really big in that Baylor game, and we want to learn from that experience."

With the end of the season quickly nearing, the Tigers know they must close out the season the way they close out games.

"We just try to get better," sophomore guard Marcus Denmon said. "Seeing the senior guys and the coaching staff trying to get this team to get some momentum, I feel that's something we're starting to do now, and it's a good time to start doing it."

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