COLUMBIA — Night stretched into morning, and Missouri coach Frank Haith could not sleep.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Some of it had to do with the weather as the Tigers waited at the Baton Rouge airport for their plane to arrive. But Haith was also troubled by the Tigers’ 73-70 loss to Southeastern Conference cellar-dweller LSU hours earlier Wednesday night.
“We didn’t get back here until 5 o’clock in the morning and I haven’t slept yet,” Haith said from Columbia on Thursday afternoon. “I’m racking my brain (thinking about) what I’ve got to do to get those guys to understand.”
As he described with a certain amount of frustration immediately after the game, some of his players occasionally freestyle and go off the game plan. That led Haith to say Missouri isn’t “a great listening team” right now.
“In huddles or timeouts,” he said, “we tell guys what we want to do, then we go out there and do something that’s totally opposite.”
The Tigers had several chances to tie the game down the stretch against LSU. But Haith seemed to lament the way his players — particularly junior point guard Phil Pressey — ended possessions by taking hurried shots that missed.
“For whatever reason, we’ve got to get our point across a little bit better, where they’re doing what we need to be doing,” Haith said, pointing the finger and he and his coaching staff. “(The problem) is not as bad at home as it is on the road. I think on the road, you have more chances to be distracted with all the things that are going on. You know, you’re not in your comfort zone, and that’s when you’ve got to have great focus and pay attention to details.”
Missouri, 15-5 overall and 4-3 in the SEC, is 0-4 in true road games this season, including 0-3 in conference games. Haith knows it falls on him to get his players to perform better and more consistently in unfamiliar environments, but his players also have to buy-in, and that job starts with senior forward Laurence Bowers and Pressey, the team captains.
While Haith was hard on Pressey on Wednesday, he praised his leadership and stressed that his teammates have to step up.
“I know Phil’s heart,” Haith said. “People want to say … and obviously he had a tough last couple minutes of that ballgame … but I know in his heart he wants to win, and I know he’s a competitor. He is our leader, and he’s doing a really good job of it. I don’t point to him, I point more to the other guys.
“The other guys, in terms of buying in, that’s what has to happen … they’ve got to want to follow. And right now, we need that as much as their leadership.”
They also need consistency. For example, Haith pointed out that the Tigers can’t afford to have such wild swings in the play of senior forward Alex Oriakhi, who combined for 36 points and 23 rebounds in his two previous games but had only one point and three rebounds in 16 minutes on Wednesday because of foul trouble.
Inconsistency also led to junior guard Earnest Ross only playing two minutes in the first half on Wednesday. Unhappy with Ross’ defense off the bench, Haith pulled him quickly and didn’t play him again until the second half.
“He just didn’t have good minutes when he was out there, you know, on the defensive end,” Haith said. “Guys have got to really buy into what their role is, and it just wasn’t quite there.”
Haith added that Ross, who finished with seven points and five rebounds in 17 minutes, played much better in the second half, so apparently the message sunk in.
He hopes his latest messages does the same for the whole team as Missouri plays Auburn, 8-12, at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
“We’ve just got to be more consistent,” Haith said. “I think that’s the word for this team. We haven’t been consistent.”
To reach Terez A. Paylor, send email to email@example.com or call 816-234-4489. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.