COLUMBIA — Feel free to nod your head in agreement if youve heard this one before: with Missouri set to face a Frank Martin-coached South Carolina team Thursday night, the Tigers will be putting an emphasis on toughness.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
We understand that (when you play) against a Frank Martin-coached team, you better bring your hard hat and lunch pail, Missouri coach Frank Haith said. Weve got to be ready to go compete and understand what kind of game its going to be from a physical standpoint.
Especially when you consider the rematch of a Jan. 22 matchup a 71-65 Missouri win in which the Tigers rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit will be played in the Gamecocks house.
In their building and dont misinterpret this they are going to be physical, and they are going to be allowed to be physical, Haith said. So you just know that going in. We got to be able to play with the mentality that you come at me, I go at him. And if you dont, youre going to be exposed.
South Carolina hasnt exposed many teams this season, however. In Martins first year in Columbia, S.C., after leaving Kansas State, the Gamecocks are 13-14, including 3-11 in the Southeastern Conference. South Carolina has lost nine of its last 11 games, with the always-entertaining Martin crushing his team after an 18-point home loss to LSU on Feb. 14.
Ive never been more embarrassed to call myself a basketball coach than I am tonight, Martin said at the time.
His squad responded two games later with a home victory over Mississippi, but is 1-2 since. Statistically, the Gamecocks have struggled in SEC play, ranking 12th in the 14-team conference in scoring offense (59.1), last in field-goal percentage (37.3 percent) and 12th in field-goal percentage defense (43.8 percent).
Yet Missouri isnt taking this game for granted, perhaps because of its 1-6 SEC road record and now-notorious struggles down the stretch in games away from home. The Tigers, 19-8 overall and 8-6 in the SEC, have lost four of their last five road games by single digits.
The fact the Gamecocks gave Missouri a serious test earlier this season also serves as a reminder that this game likely wont be an easy win. The game featured 43 combined fouls, 33.3 percent shooting by Missouri and a slight 44-43 rebounding edge by the Tigers, who routinely outrebound SEC opponents by an average of seven boards per game, best in the conference.
It was a very physical game, MU senior Alex Oriakhi said of the first matchup. We just have to match how physical they are and rebound because they like to crash the offensive glass. Weve just got to be warriors out there.
Oriakhi, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds the first time the two teams met, will be a key part of that. But he, like the rest of his teammates, will have to find the right balance of aggressiveness to match South Carolina, but avoid the kind of foul trouble that has sometimes plagued the Tigers away from Mizzou Arena.
If you play hard, sometimes youll pick up fouls, senior forward Laurence Bowers said. But Coach wants us to be more aggressive and be tougher, so if fouls happen, thats just a chance weve got to take. Weve definitely got to be more physical than we were last night.
Bowers was referring to a crushing 90-83 overtime loss to Kentucky on Saturday in which Haith said the Tigers were outhustled down the stretch. Missouri led by as many as 13 points in that game, which could have been a crucial NCAA Tournament resume booster for the Tigers.
A win against the struggling Gamecocks would be less impressive but equally important for a Missouri team still seeking a respectable road victory as the season nears its end.
If we dont beat them, then thats when the problems start coming into play, said junior guard Phil Pressey, when asked about the Tigers NCAA Tournament hopes. So you just have to worry about the next game and control that outcome.
To reach Terez A. Paylor, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 816-234-4489. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.