COLUMBIA — Alex Oriakhi felt the sting across his arm and immediately turned to referee Les Jones.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Moments earlier in Missouri’s 79-62 win over Georgia on Wednesday, Oriakhi had told the same ref to watch the fouls — and if this wasn’t a foul, well, he didn’t know what was.
So when Jones agreed — the whistle came shortly thereafter — Oriakhi tried to give him a high-five.
“I was just trying to get on their good side,” said Oriakhi, whose gesture went predictably unreturned. “I haven’t been lately.”
Jokes aside, Oriakhi’s on-court intensity — while a positive, overall — has gotten him in trouble at times this season. Oriakhi, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound senior transfer from UConn, is averaging 10.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, but he also has two technical fouls. Missouri coach Frank Haith said Oriakhi’s emotions have negatively affected his play at times this season.
“That’s the thing we’ve talked to Alex about, his composure,” Haith said. “He’s got to get better with that. When you’re a big guy like him, you’re going to get hit a lot and you can’t let that affect your reactions … emotions can’t get to the point where it allows you to not be able to get what we need from you.”
Haith said this happened to Oriakhi in Missouri’s 64-49 loss at Mississippi on Saturday, when he had four points and six rebounds in 23 minutes but struggled to get in a rhythm after some non calls.
“He got so emotional early in that ball game,” Haith said. “But if you throw your body around, you’re not always going to get a foul call. You’ve just got to play through it. You’ve got to handle it with toughness.”
But Haith doesn’t want Oriakhi swinging too far the other way, either. Junior point guard Phil Pressey, who has known Oriakhi since they were kids, was adamant that Oriakhi’s intensity has always been a part of his game.
“As easy as a dunk can get him into the game, a bad call can kind of get him hyped up as well,” Pressey said. “He usually doesn’t let it get the best of him … but he’s just so emotional about the game sometimes.”
Pressey, who said he can usually calm Oriakhi down when necessary, added that Oriakhi’s effort and desire to win fuels his intensity and is a positive for the team.
“That type of energy can get anybody going,” Pressey said. “You see a teammate amped up and ready to go, you should want to do the same because you’re fighting for the same thing. We could use that.”
Haith also says he likes Oriakhi’s edge — he just doesn’t like the technicals. And with leading scorer Laurence Bowers still out for No. 17 Missouri’s 1 p.m. game Saturday at Florida, 13-2, it’s imperative that Oriakhi maintain the perfect balance of passion and productivity, much like he did against Georgia, when he finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and four blocks and was a force inside.
“He’s got to be the guy we get more production out of on a consistent basis,” Haith said.
And if Oriakhi does that with some good-natured joking with the referees, so be it.
“I’ve always been told,” Haith said, “that you get more accomplished with a little bit of honey as opposed to a little bit of vinegar.”
To reach Terez A. Paylor, send email to email@example.com or call 816-234-4489. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.