Vahe Gregorian

Brown, Clarkson carry MU, but can’t carry Tigers to victory

Updated: 2014-02-04T15:52:14Z

By VAHE GREGORIAN

The Kansas City Star

— Every decade or so, Mizzou basketball may be apt to showcase a spectacle like what Jabari Brown (33 points) and Jordan Clarkson (28) erupted for on Saturday at Mizzou Arena.

That made for the most prolific outburst by two Tigers since Rickey Paulding scored 36 and Arthur Johnson added 28 against Marquette in an NCAA Tournament game in 2003.

And it so marked the day that it compelled Kentucky coach John Calipari to seek them out.

“I grabbed them both after the game; I just said, `I’m telling you, you both are special now,’ ” said Calipari, whose thought process then went on scan. “We don’t have to play Missouri again, do we?”

Told no, he said, “Great.”

But Brown and Clarkson’s influence on a game in which MU’s forwards were faint factors represents, in fact, a double-edged reflection on a confounding team:

They are special. But they can only carry Mizzou so far.

After a rare Southeastern Conference road victory Tuesday at Arkansas, the Tigers fell 84-79 to the 11th-ranked Wildcats after a rally from a 16-point deficit fizzled.

The defeat dropped MU to 16-5 overall and 4-4 in SEC play, the same records as Kentucky, though not really the same resume, considering UK’s schedule and apparent ceiling with its preposterously talented freshman class.

So after generating MU’s best individual scoring game since 2006, Brown was left thinking not about what he’d done but what he hadn’t.

“That last play, I didn’t get a stop and they scored a bucket, so that’s tough, you know,” Brown said, “It’s kind of killing me right now.”

This loss, of course, wasn’t on Brown, who has scored 22 or more points in Mizzou’s last six games, or on Clarkson.

“What (MU coach Frank Haith) is doing is he’s playing through two or three guys (apparently including the mercurial Earnest Ross) and those two or three are as good as anybody in our league,” Calipari said. “And all I was thinking about prior to the game is, ‘If one of these guys gets going, I don’t want this to be Texas A&M (last season).’

“If you don’t know, we had a kid get, like, 56 on us.”

Actually, it was 40 by Elston Turner, but you get the idea.

So two of “those guys” going for 61 had no small resemblance to that, and that especially says a lot about the duo when they were virtually Kentucky’s entire emphasis.

Trouble is, that was essentially it for MU, whose forwards astoundingly were outscored 49-3.

That imbalance has been a nagging issue for Mizzou this season, but never quite to that extreme.

And as the season turns to February, it’s hard to see how the Tigers can get any traction or momentum down the stretch without something, anything, inside on a consistent basis with what’s sure to become intensifying heat on Brown and Clarkson.

“We have to; we have to get something,” Haith said, pointing to freshman Johnathan Williams’ foul trouble and, perhaps, the way he was outmuscled. “He’s our best low-post presence, and he never got into the flow of the game. That really hurt us.”

“But we need something out of those guys.”

Here, Haith diverted some to his belief that the loss was more about defense than offense. And that’s a worthy point, though not necessarily separate, as Mizzou tries to establish an NCAA Tournament profile in a key season: the first in which Haith is working exclusively with his own recruits.

Calipari was speaking of the mood swings of his young team after the game when he said, “Are we this team, or are we the other team?” and left it open-ended.

But he could just as easily have been speaking of the uncertainty about MU’s trajectory as it goes into road games at No. 3 Florida (19-2, 8-0) and Mississippi (15-6, 6-2).

Who’s to say where see-sawing Mizzou is headed now?

The Tigers suddenly are beatable at home, losing for just the third time at Mizzou Arena in 46 home games under Haith — but for the second time in the last four. Moreover, they haven’t won more than two games in a row since starting the season 10-0.

This, even as Brown is emerging as a top candidate for SEC player of the year.

Over the last six games, he has made 48 of 61 field-goal attempts and 22 of 33 from three-point range.

“I don’t think Jabari gets credit for how good a player he is,” Haith said.

Or as South Carolina coach Frank Martin put it after Brown hit seven of 13 overall and four of six on threes against the Gamecocks: “He don’t miss.”

Asked what’s led to this for Brown, a junior playing his second season at MU after transferring from Oregon, Haith said: “It’s his maturity, his mental approach to the game. You sit up here listening to him, he’s a very mature player. He’s got a high basketball IQ, and he’s driven.”

As for Brown and Clarkson as a tandem, Haith said, “Both those guys are terrific players, and they left it out there on the court. They gave it everything they have.”

Which made for a game to remember that further illuminated what’s missing, too.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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