University of Missouri

Missouri’s defense hasn’t rested during 9-0 start

Updated: 2013-12-14T19:57:08Z

By BLAIR KERKHOFF

The Kansas City Star

Sizing up teams in the preseason is typically based on scoring potential. Who are the scorers? Will points come from inside or outside?

Defensive ability doesn’t get its due.

But as Missouri puts a perfect record on the line in Sunday’s game against Western Michigan at Mizzou Arena, it’s becoming more apparent that defense played a big role in coach Frank Haith’s optimism heading into the season.

Part of that is the length Mizzou can throw at opponents, especially a backcourt where three starters — Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross — each stand 6 feet 5. But defense has been a team exercise.

“We really thrive on taking away the paint,” Haith said. “We don’t get out and press you and try to steal and get in passing lanes, take ourselves out of a play.”

Haith has been impressed with the Tigers’ defense inside the three-point line.

“That’s something a little different that what we’ve done in the past,” Haith said.

In a year when offense in college basketball has loosened up with officials cracking down on contact, Missouri is holding opponents to 39.2 percent shooting while making 49.7 percent of its own shots.

The Tigers’ foes are connecting on an icy 27.9 percent from beyond the arc.

Missouri hounded shooters in its two biggest victories, against West Virginia and UCLA in the previous week.

The Mountaineers entered their game in Columbia leading the Big 12 in perimeter shooting at 46.5 percent and missed their first 11, finishing four of 19 on threes.

UCLA arrived at Missouri averaging nearly 92 points a game, but after grabbing an eight-point halftime lead, the Tigers put the clamps down. The Bruins missed 23 of 31 shots in a 28-point second half, including all eight threes.

More missed shots means more rebounding opportunities, and the Tigers are dominating board play by a 41-30 average with freshman Johnathan Williams III working hard at 8.6 boards per game. He pulled down 15 against UCLA and had a 17-rebound game earlier this year.

“My role is going to grow as the season continues as far as on the offensive side,” Williams said. “But for right now, (rebounding) is what I do, and blocking shots and playing defense.”

A freshman who buys into defense is a coach’s favorite.

“He has great instincts,” Haith said. “He has a great second jump.”

Add it up and Missouri finds itself in a position to become the third Tigers team in 32 years to start 10-0. It also happened in Haith’s first year, the 2011-12 squad that could score with nearly every opponent.

This one is getting done on the other end.

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.

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