Missouri’s basketball team has never won at Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena, where it takes on the Razorbacks at 6 p.m. Tuesday, and recent history suggests that won’t change.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
After all, the Tigers have alternated wins and losses during seven consecutive games, including all six Southeastern Conference games.
Missouri beat South Carolina on Saturday, keeping the pattern intact. That means another loss is imminent, right?
“It’d be nice to get two (wins) in a row,” Tigers coach Frank Haith said. “We haven’t done that yet in league play.”
Missouri also hasn’t ever won at Bud Walton Arena in six previous games on the Razorbacks’ home floor.
“It would be a big one then, wouldn’t it?” Haith said.
So, how can the Tigers change history — both in the series and from the last month? Here are a few keys to victory:
1. Handle the atmosphere
Junior Jabari Brown said it got a little hostile at Bud Walton Arena last February when Missouri lost 73-71 in Fayetteville, Ark.
“Last year, when we went down there, we heard a lot from their fans, so I’m expecting the same this year,” Brown said.
He said most of the verbal grenades lobbed by fans weren’t fit for print, but Brown offered one rude jab as an example.
“Somebody told me they were surprised I was playing basketball,” Brown said. “They thought everybody from Oakland just shoots people. That was a good one. I just laughed at that one. That was a new one. I hadn’t heard that one before.”
The reality is that Arkansas enjoys a major home-court edge thanks to 19,368 rowdy fans who pack the place and help fuel the Razorbacks’ frenetic “40 minutes of hell” defense.
“They play with great energy in there,” Haith said. “They press and they play physical in their building. They play one step faster in their building as most teams do.”
The Tigers, 15-4, must find a way to keep their cool and avoid letting Arkansas’ style lead to mistakes.
“A lot of people get sped up and that plays into their hands,” Brown said. “We’ve definitely got to play at the tempo that we want to play at.”
Senior Earnest Ross, who played two seasons at Auburn before transferring to Missouri, puts Bud Walton Arena on par with Kentucky’s Rupp Arena, Florida’s O’Connell Center and Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena.
Winless at Bud Walton
Missouri is 0-6 since Bud Walton Arena opened for the 1993-94 season. The Tigers lost the first three games there by an average of 27.3 points, but it hasn’t been as bad of late. Missouri last three trips to Fayetteville resulted in losses of three points or fewer, including a 73-71 defeat last February. Here are the Tigers’ all-time results since then at Arkansas:
|Dec. 2, 1993||L, 120-68|
|Dec. 5, 1995||L, 104-93|
|Dec. 6, 1997||L, 75-46|
|Dec. 2, 2005||L, 66-63|
|Nov. 28, 2007||L, 94-91|
|Feb. 16, 2013||L, 73-71|
2. Let Brown keep delivering
Brown averaged 26 points, five rebounds and 3.5 assists last week for Missouri. He scored a career-high 28 at LSU despite not attempting a shot until the 11:53 mark in the first half then followed up with a career-high six assists versus South Carolina.
Brown was 17 of 28 from the field (60.7 percent) and eight of 13 from three-point range (61.5 percent). He also nine of 12 from the line (75 percent)*.
Missouri is 12-2 when Brown scores at least 20 points, which he’s done in each of the last four games. While the Tigers are only 2-2 during the stretch, that’s hardly Brown’s fault.
He has been scorching hot.
Brown leads the SEC in scoring at 19.5 points per game and has been even more explosive in conference play, averaging 22 points during the last six games.
Brown also leads the SEC in shooting (.539) and three-point shooting (.553) during that span.
“You get surprised when he missed,” sophomore Ryan Rosburg said. “That’s where it’s at right now. The guy can shoot, everyone knows that, but he’s really hitting his stride at a good time. Obviously, we’re really excited for him. He’s having a big year. We’ve got a big week ahead of us, so hopefully he can keep that up.”
* Can we pause for a moment to address the ridiculousness that Brown wasn’t the SEC player of the week? Florida’s Michael Frazier II had a good week , but Brown was clearly better. Apparently, the fact that the Gators went 2-0 was the deciding factor, so why not call it the SEC Team MVP of the week award. Otherwise, give the honor to Brown. Moving on.
3. Keep sharing the ball
Missouri recorded a season-best 18 assists Saturday in a victory against South Carolina.
That number was boosted by the fact that Rosburg and freshman Johnathan Williams III went a combined seven of nine from the field, which is considerably better than the Tigers’ big men had been shooting in recent weeks.
Still, better ball circulation also has been a factor and quick.
“We’re just making better decisions and I think we’re sharing the ball better,” Haith said. “We’re not holding onto it longer. We’re getting the ball in and out of our hands. That’s helped us make better decisions and handle the ball better.”
Quick, precise passing is the best way to beat Arkansas’ pressure, so Missouri had better hope the ball movement against the Gamecocks was a trend and not the exception.
“I think the basket will be open a lot,” Brown said. “I think they’ll bring guys up and leave Ryan and J3 in the back open. They’ve just got to catch and finish like they did last game.”