Missouri gets another crack a power-conference opponent Sunday against Arizona at the McKale Center in Tucson.
It’s also a chance for the Tigers to end a stretch of 16 consecutive losses away from Mizzou Arena, but that’s no small feat against the No. 13 Wildcats, who own the nation’s longest current home winning streak at 43 games.
“It’s a huge opportunity and I’m really excited,” said sophomore guard Namon Wright, a Los Angeles native who expects a healthy swath of family and other supporters in the crowd. “We all plan to bring our ‘A’ games, and we’re ready to go at them and try to get this win.”
It’s not the end of the world if Missouri, 5-3, comes up short at Arizona, but it could provide a tremendous boost for second-year coach Kim Anderson’s rebuilding program.
The Tigers played tough at Xavier in mid-November before ultimately suffering a 12-point loss.
It was an encouraging performance, but Missouri followed up with a demoralizing 24-point loss against Kansas State in the CBE Classic.
Battling Northwestern in the tourney’s third-place game at the Sprint Center, the Tigers were again abysmal during the first half before rallying in a five-point loss.
“All three of our losses … we learned a lot from all of them,” said freshman guard K.J. Walton, who said cutting down the turnovers will be crucial.
Arizona, 8-1, roughed up Missouri 72-53 during the Maui Invitational last season, but Anderson said given the roster turnover there’s limited value to re-watching that game.
The Tigers recovered well from the three-game swoon, putting it on Arkansas State, Northern Illinois and Nebraska-Omaha. All three wins came by at least seven points and featured double-digit leads.
“We’ve won three in a row, so we built some confidence here,” freshman guard Terrence Phillips said. “Now, we’ll carry the confidence over to the road. … I think this could be great for us, going into a hostile environment against a good team. … I think we can go in there and give ourselves a chance. Play hard and play with play some confidence, we can do anything possible.”
Of course, all three wins during the recent surge featured at-times massive leads that were whittled down to close contests unless Missouri displayed a strong finishing kick each time.
Asked how much better the Tigers need to play to upset the Wildcats, Anderson said with a chuckle, “Probably quite a bit. Obviously, you’ve got to play at a higher than we have in the last three games. … I think we have to be more efficient. … What these game have shown us is that we have to play harder all the time. You can’t take a break. You can’t back off for a while and relax. We’ve done that some. You can’t do that against Arizona.”
Missouri also can’t turn the ball over 18 times as it did against Nebraska-Omaha last time out. Anderson’s squad has averaged 13.8 turnovers, including an alarming number in the first half, during the last six games.
“We certainly can’t have 18 turnovers …,” freshman forward Kevin Puryear said. “I still don’t think we’ve played our best basketball, and we’re only going to keep getting better from here. I’m sure everybody’s tired of hearing that we’re a young team, but it’s the truth and we’re only going to keep getting better.”
Fans will get a measure of how much better during the showdown with Arizona.