COLUMBIA — Junior point guard Phil Pressey insists that whatever weariness he felt after playing 44 of 45 possible minutes in Missouris 97-94 loss to UCLA on Dec. 28 would have dissipated had the result been different.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
I would have felt great if we would have won, Pressey said. I would have run up and down for 20 more minutes. But we lost so I obviously felt terrible.
Its a feeling Pressey has not become familiar with this season as the No. 12 Tigers dropped to 10-2 with the loss. But Presseys stunning 19-point, 19-assist performance against the Bruins also came with a cost.
Every time Missouri has been tested this season, coach Frank Haith has been forced to keep Pressey on the floor out of necessity. With no other experienced point guard on the roster, Pressey played 39 of 40 minutes in an 82-73 win over Illinois on Dec. 22, played all 40 minutes of an 81-65 win over Southeast Missouri State on Dec. 4 and played all 40 minutes of a 68-65 win over Virginia Commonwealth on Nov. 24.
Pressey is averaging a team-high 34.1 minutes per game, nearly three more than guard Jabari Brown, his closest teammate. Since an 84-61 loss to Louisville on Nov. 23 in which the Tigers struggled to get into their offense when Pressey tried to catch a breather Haith has been reluctant to take out his star point guard in competitive games for multiple minutes.
Hes only sitting out a minute a game, thats kind of unheard of, senior forward Laurence Bowers said. But him being he great player he is, hes rising to the occasion.
Despite shooting three for 19 from the field against Illinois, Pressey controlled the game by logging 11 assists and seven rebounds. And despite a four-for-18 shooting performance against Southeast Missouri, Pressey finished with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Whatever Coach Haith wants me to do, Im going to do it, Pressey said. Im young. When I was younger, I never felt like I got tired, I always wanted to play every minute.
Haith, of course, would prefer to give Pressey a few more breathers going forward against good teams. But that means the Tigers have to take care of the ball better when hes out of the game, a job that falls on 6-foot-7 freshman Negus Webster-Chan and, to a lesser extent, 6-4 Keion Bell.
Weve got to get better at that, weve got to get better minutes out of some guys, Haith said, mentioning Webster-Chan and Bell. But weve also got to do a better job of screening and (doing) other things when those guys are at the point. We didnt help them out as much as we needed to when they were in there.
Webster-Chan turned the ball over twice against UCLA in 20 minutes and once against Illinois in only 6 minutes, but is eager to improve and has embraced his role.
I dont think Ive been doing that well, (playing) like I normally play, said Webster-Chan, who added that coaches have encouraged him to use his frame to protect the ball against smaller guards. But Ill get back, get better at it I just need to protect the ball more.
Haith is confident Webster-Chan can do it; he scored 12 points and only had one turnover in 36 minutes against an aggressive, pressing VCU team.
Hes got to get better, Haith said. But if you go to the VCU game, he was outstanding. He hasnt been one to turn the ball over.
The process of helping Pressey will continue when Missouri plays respected mid-major Bucknell, 13-2, at 3 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena. Its the Tigers last tune up before Southeastern Conference play begins Tuesday against Alabama.
I think Phil is terrific, he just has to get better with it, Haith said. I dont want Phil to feel like he has the weight of the world on him, because he doesnt. Theres other good players on this team.