As Missouri limps to the finish line in its first season under Kim Anderson, it’s understandable that fans are focused on the current 13-game losing streak, the worst skid in MU’s 109-season history.
Anderson chooses to delve deeper. He’s repeatedly said that he’s not happy about the mounting losses, but he also isn’t focused strictly on the Tigers’ record, 7-20 and 1-13 in the SEC.
“I have seen growth,” Anderson said. “It’s hard for people to see it. … I think our guys have gotten better, but so has the competition. As you get into the league and the coaches do such a great job of scouting and preparation, you have to step your game up even more. People will look at our record and say, ‘Well, they haven’t gotten any better.’ We have gotten better, but we’re playing really good teams.”
Missouri also is taking the floor game after game with a freshman-heavy rotation that lacks experience and consistency.
It’s made for some ugly basketball at times, whether it was an inbound pass off D’Angelo Allen’s cheek for a turnover or Tramaine Isabell’s unguarded dribble off his own foot Saturday in a 76-53 loss at Vanderbilt.
A couple of the Tigers’ freshmen also got caught ball watching on the final play of the first half when the Commodores’ Josh Henderson slipped to the rim for a momentum-zapping, tip-in at the buzzer.
“It’s one of those stupid mental errors that easily could have been fixed once again,” freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar said. “We can’t keep using ‘we’re young’ as an excuse, because that’s just a box out. If there’s a man wide open, you have to go put your butt into him and move him out of the way.”
Vanderbilt isn’t a great example.
Missouri was lethargic at the beginning of both halves and never matched the Commodores’ intensity, but there have been games when the Tigers battled to the bitter end.
Anderson believes there’s a building recognition among the players about what it takes to succeed at the college level.
“If you go back and you look at our season — and, obviously, it’s been a struggle for us — but if you go back and look, there are games where two or three possessions in a game might have changed the outcome,” he said. “Maybe some guys are starting to realize that. It’s never too late. There’s still four regular-season games left and you still have a chance to win some games and improve as a team. It is encouraging that (Gill-Caesar) recognizes that, because that’s something we’ve talked to them about all year.”
Anderson said Allen’s adjustment to the wing in recent games, a move made necessary by the dearth of guards after sophomore Wes Clark’s season-ending elbow injury, has been encouraging.
The slow, steady emergence of forward Jakeenan Gant as an offensive threat the last two weeks also provides an inkling of hope.
Anderson said the young players have been especially diligent about coming in for extra position drills or shooting. He also said he has shortened practice in hopes it will reinvigorate a young squad for the final few games.
“Obviously, when you haven’t won games, it’s hard,” Anderson said. “Guys’ confidence gets hurt a little bit, but the only thing you can do is keep playing, keep coming back and get ready to play on Tuesday (against Florida at Mizzou Arena).”