COLUMBIA — Earnest Ross was cruising along answering questions until one gave him pause.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
How did he feel about Bucknell grabbing more rebounds than Missouri last week, the first time the Tigers lost the rebounding battle all season?
Were kind of disappointed about that, Ross said.
His answer was a reflection of the Tigers overall attitude toward rebounding. Missouri coach Frank Haith believed that to win, this seasons team which lacks the shooters and offensive efficiency of last seasons senior-led group would need to make rebounding a priority.
In terms of rebounding, its about just going, Haith said. We chart rebounding in terms of attempts, when you have opportunity to offensive rebound and you dont go and how many times you dont block out. Its all about what you emphasize.
Through the seasons first 12 games, the emphasis seemed to pay off, as No. 10 Missouri pulled in a nations best 47.4 rebounds per game. Their plus-14 rebounding margin ranked second in the nation, and MU players had 11 double-doubles this season, two more than the team total for the 2011-12 season.
Senior forward Laurence Bowers said Haiths approach in practice helps reinforce the importance of attacking the glass.
They chart down everything, and whenever you have negative results, you have to run, Bowers said. Thats kind of like embedded in us as players.
Senior center Alex Oriakhi, who leads MU in rebounding with 8.9 per game, agrees.
Ive never watched as much film since Ive been in college since I got to Missouri, said Oriakhi, who transferred to MU in the spring after three seasons at Connecticut. It helps a lot, because when you hear it, you dont really believe it until you see it on film. Then you see it on film and you tell yourself I definitely have to start boxing out more.
After Bucknell became the first team to edge Missouri on the boards, 39-38, a smallish, guard-heavy Alabama team became the second by outrebounding Missouri by a 32-27 margin on Tuesday.
Missouri beat the Tide 84-68, but the recent numbers still lead to a simple question: what gives?
Theres no question our rebounding numbers are down a little not having Tony (Criswell), and now not having Laurence (Bowers), Haith said. We dont have depth we had.
Criswell, a 6-foot-9 junior averaging six points and five rebounds a game, suffered a broken middle finger on his left hand against Illinois. He has sat out Missouris last three games, though Haith said he will be a game-time decision Saturday night at Mississippi.
Bowers, a 6-foot-8 senior, who will miss at least the next two games after spraining the MCL in his right knee against Alabama. He missed last season because of a left knee injury, but has bounced back, averaging 16.8 points and 6.9 rebounds and becoming an early SEC player of the year candidate.
But Haith isnt going to let his team off the hook because of injuries. He says they all share the burden of rebounding and must recommit to doing it better.
We have to block out and do the little things, he said, and the guards have to do better job rebounding.
In 6-foot-9 senior Reginald Buckner and 6-foot-7 senior Murphy Holloway, the Rebels, 12-2, feature two big men who are capable of cleaning up on the glass. Missouri will counter with Oriakhi and also Ross, a 6-5 guard who has earned some time at power forward when MU shifts to a four-guard lineup. Hes third on the team in rebounding at 5.6 per game.
It comes down to will, Oriakhi said. We definitely have to clean that up in the next couple of games because we got some great teams were going to play.