Missouri has won its last two games, against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Savannah State, by a combined 84 points .
Those aren’t exactly powerhouse programs, but it still represents a high-water mark for the Kim Anderson era in some ways.
It’s the largest combined margin of victory in consecutive games since the Tigers trounced Texas-Pan American 100-44 and walloped Chattanooga 99-56 early in the 2009-10 season.
The timing couldn’t be better either, as Missouri’s confidence is surging as SEC play dawns at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday against Georgia at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga.
“We came back (after Christmas) and have played our best basketball of the season probably,” said Anderson, who is in his second season on the bench at his alma mater. “I don’t know if we’re peaking, but I think we’re playing better. It’s important that we’ve put together a couple of games that have maybe given our guys some confidence.”
Conference play was a disaster for the Tigers last season.
Missouri finished last in the 14-team SEC, going 3-15 in conference play and losing a program-record 12 consecutive games at one stretch.
The Tigers hope to avoid similar ignominy this winter.
“We haven’t really sat down and said, ‘We want to win this many games or that (many),’ ” Anderson said. “Our goals are to try to continue to improve. Obviously you want to improve on how you did last year, try to play well every game and try to avoid a streak like we did.”
Missouri doesn’t want to dwell on last season for obvious reasons, but it remains a driving force — even for players who didn’t live through it.
“My goal is to win as many as possible,” said freshman forward Kevin Puryear, a Blue Springs South graduate. “Everybody’s just excited to get out and really turn this thing around from last year and show people what we’re capable of doing.”
The Bulldogs, 7-4, who lost their SEC opener Saturday at Florida, provide the Tigers, 7-6, the first opportunity to prove the program has turned a corner.
“It would be a huge start, getting off to a win going to Georgia,” freshman point guard Terrence Phillips said. “We haven’t won a game on the road or a neutral site, so it would be big to go Georgia and get this one.”
The Bulldogs handed MU its second-worst loss last season, a 24-point beating on Feb. 28 that demonstrates the stagger the Tigers must make up to prevail.
Missouri has lost 21 straight games against NCAA Division I teams away from Mizzou Arena and are 0-12 in true road games the last two seasons under Anderson.
The Tigers’ last win on a neutral floor against a Division I opponent came in double overtime against Texas A&M during the 2014 SEC Tournament, while the last win in a true road game was Jan. 28, 2014, at Arkansas.
Still, Missouri’s 78-25 win against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and 81-50 victory against Savannah State caught Georgia’s attention.
“They’re playing really good basketball right now,” Bulldogs coach Mark Fox said. “They’ve crushed their last two opponents, and I think they’re an improved team from a year ago. Coach Anderson deserves credit for that.”
The trick now is getting that progress to carry into SEC play.
“We seem to be gaining more consistency,” Anderson said. “I think that’s been a big problem with our team, being young and inexperienced. … Maybe we’re maturing a little bit. Maybe we’re growing.”
By reaching defensive goals for points allowed in the last two games, Missouri earned days off from practice. There’s no agreed-upon total yet for Georgia.
“I don’t know an exact number, but less than us,” senior Ryan Rosburg said. “I’ll be happy with that.”