COLUMBIA — The jerseys were the same and players faces familiar, but in Missouris 64-49 loss to Mississippi on Saturday, coach Frank Haith saw a team that only resembled the group hes grown to know the last three months.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
We didnt look like ourselves, Haith acknowledged.
Especially on offense, where No. 17 Missouri, 12-3, turned in a season-low 49 points on 36.8-percent shooting with 19 turnovers. Some of this was due to the absence of leading scorer Laurence Bowers, who missed his first game because of a sprained MCL in his right knee.
Without Bowers, Missouri opened the game with a 6½-minute scoreless drought. Also, the Tigers five frontcourt players (Alex Oriakhi, Tony Criswell, Earnest Ross, Stefan Jankovic and Ryan Rosburg) scored a combined 15 points, almost two points shy of Bowers 16.8 per-game average.
Bowers, a 6-foot-8 senior co-captain, is also out for tonights 7 oclock game against Georgia, 6-9. So while its clear that several players must pick up Bowers slack, its also clear that some options are better than others.
One player who could get playing time is the 6-8 Criswell, who had six points and two rebounds in 14 minutes Saturday after missing three games because of a broken finger (he wore a cast on his hand during the game).
Haith could also rely on better execution from the four-guard lineup he used to start the game on Saturday, a group that includes junior swingman Earnest Ross at the four-spot, playing the role that Kim English mastered so well last season.
Its something that we have to continue to get better at, said Ross, who finished with three points on one-of-seven shooting (including zero for four from three-point range) against Mississippi.
It appears the process of making that four-guard lineup work starts with Ross not only shooting better hes hitting 33 percent on three-pointers, compared with 45.9 percent by English last year but also knowing his assignments.
Our offense is not going to be as fluid if hes not where hes supposed to be, Haith said. Were not going to gave good spacing.
Haith was quick to add that thats a lot of responsibility on Ross, a 6-5 swingman who also plays the two and the three, and its on the staff to make sure it gets the best out of him.
Junior point guard Phil Pressey also said the Tigers struggled with spacing while using its four-guard lineup but expects it to improve as Ross gets more comfortable at the four.
As easy as it sounds to move a guy from position to position, its hard because he has to know all the plays at his natural position and at the four, Pressey said. Hes learning both positions, and its two totally different things. He just has to figure it out.
Ross, who is averaging 9.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, is optimistic he will do just that.
Trying to remember the plays from your original spot, and then trying to remember the plays from the four-spot is a tough job, Ross said. Being able to manage everything and think fast on the court Im still adjusting to that. But once I get it on the court, well be fine.
The sooner the better for the Tigers, who could be without Bowers beyond tonights game. Haith said he will be re-evaluated after tonights game but is adamant that Bowers, who missed all of last season because of an ACL injury to his other knee, will not be rushed back.
In the meantime, it will likely fall on Criswell and Ross to help the Tigers weather the storm. That means the four-guard lineup with Ross at the four could be here for a while.