COLUMBIA — Missouris 98-79 conquest of Mississippi gets filed in the best victory of the season folder, along with Illinois and Virginia Commonwealth, and Saturdays was the most complete.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Deadly from beyond the arc, dominant on the boards, and shut-down solid on the Rebels, who were the ones to do the most damage in the previous meeting at Oxford.
When Missouri plays like this, it stands with Florida and surging Kentucky as the Southeastern Conferences best.
The problem, as all in black and gold know, is such efforts have not occurred on enemy courts. Saturdays outcome moves the Tigers home record in SEC play to 6-0, and the overall conference mark to 6-4.
How to explain the wide disparity?
Thats a 50 million dollar question, Mizzou coach Frank Haith said.
Haith is right when he says the previous two SEC road attempts LSU and Texas A&M were improvements over the losses at Ole Miss and Florida, but the LSU Tigers and Aggies also are lesser competition.
The all or nothingness of league success isnt new to Mizzou, but such swings were believed to have departed to Arkansas with Mike Anderson.
Last year, Haiths first, the Tigers got a big lift by winning at third-ranked Baylor, one of six league road triumphs. Half of those were by three points or fewer as Mizzou made the big plays at the critical moments.
This year? Missouri battled back from second-half deficits to put the previous two road games in jump-ball situations. You know the results. Bad decisions down the stretch denied victory.
The Tigers made some of those same decisions Saturday in the friendly confines. On the day he surpassed Kansas Citys Anthony Peeler and became the programs career assist leader, point guard Phil Pressey launched a career-high 23 shots. He made nine of those and hit half of his eight three-pointers.
In all, not a bad game. Pressey was one of three players with 20 or more points and recorded four assists to one turnover.
But just as Pressey launched ill-advised shots at the end of the last two road losses, he took some on Saturday when more ball movement was needed. Pressey and the Missouri offense is at its best when Pressey drives and kicks to Jabari Brown, Laurence Bowers, Earnest Ross or newfound bomber Keion Bell, who made all three of his deep shots after making one three-pointer in league play before Saturday.
Or when Pressey drives and finishes at the basket. His spin move for a basket in the second half made the game highlight reels.
Even with a miss off a drive, Alex Oriakhi is there to clean up, as he was against the Rebels with 10 offensive rebounds among his 18 boards to go along with 22 points in a monster game.
If only he didnt bring Mississippis Reginald Buckner down by grabbing his ankle. A fracas ensued, technicals were assessed and Buckner got tossed for fisticuffs. But Oriakhis lost-cool moment got it started.
Let his play to do the talking, Haith said.
At home, cruising along, confidence flowing and three-pointers falling, the Tigers can spare some bad shots and discipline lapses.
But in the enemy gym or any close game, a bad Pressey shot or an Oriakhi moment of anger mismanagement could be costly. Thursdays game at College Station, when both happened, for instance.
Four of the Tigers next five are on the road, including the Anderson Game at Fayetteville next Saturday, plus a trip to Kentucky. That home game? Florida.
The crazy thing is, Missouri is constructed for postseason success. Theyre strong in the post, have good shooters and when hes on top of his game, Pressey measures up with college basketballs best playmakers.
The good news there is that the Tigers wont have to play in somebody elses gym when that time comes.