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January 19, 2010For the first time in more than a month, the Missouri Tigers lost a game last weekend. Between a December 9th setback at Oral Roberts and Saturday's 66-61 loss to Oklahoma, the Tigers had rattled off nine wins in a row.
"It hurts. You want it to hurt," said Kim English. "We had six losses last year before tournament play and each loss felt like the end of the world. But once we get back in the lab, it kind of makes the loss go away a little bit. You've got to refocus and it teaches you lessons from the loss. Hopefully we'll learn something from this loss."
The lab to which English refers is practice, and the Tigers will have plenty of time for that. This is the one week during the Big 12 season in which the Tigers don't play a mid-week game. Next up for the Tigers is Nebraska, which is winless in league play. With a showdown against arch-rival and league leader Kansas just two days later, Mike Anderson was asked about the chances of his team overlooking the Huskers.
"Our guys have a bad taste in their mouth right now," Anderson said. "Hopefully they're ready to go and play anybody at this point in time. I'm sure they'd rather play Wednesday if we had a chance to. Nebraska will be the focus of our basketball team."
The break may actually be a good thing for the Tigers. Between the end of the first semester of classes and the start of the second (which begins today), Missouri played nine games. No Big 12 team played more over the break. The Tigers have gone more than four days between games just once all season.
"Now, they've got to juggle their routine again. A month out of school is a long time," Anderson said. "We'll use this week, hopefully, to our advantage to practice, get back in the routine of school and just work on some things. Get more efficient, I think, as a team."
A focus of the fanbase, and the media, has been the play of senior guard J.T. Tiller. Tiller started the season as one of 50 candidates on the watch list for the Naismith Award, given to the nation's best player. But so far this season, Tiller is averaging fewer assists, fewer rebounds and nearly a full turnover more than he did as a junior.
"Sometimes it doesn't always go the way you want," Tiller said. "We're just halfway through the season. If it hasn't gone the way you want through the first half, you've still got the second half to pick it up."
It has been suggested that perhaps Tiller feels more of a need to carry the offensive burden for a Missouri team that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago. His scoring is virtually the same (up to 8.7 points per game from 8.4), but his percentage from the floor and from three-point range has dropped from a season ago.
"I think there's different ways to carry the offensive load," Anderson said. "J.T.'s an energy guy. I always say, you stay true to who you are. You can't change overnight. You've got to stay true to who you are."
With that advice, both Anderson and Tiller's teammates expect to see things turnaround in short order.
"I think sometimes you want to do something so bad," Anderson said. "In the next stretch, I think you'll see the real J.T. I really do. Sometimes, your senior year, you want to do something so bad, it don't turn out how you want it to. But, with him, it's not because of the effort."
After Texas' loss to Kansas State on Monday night, the Kansas Jayhawks are the league's only unbeaten team. The Jayhawks are 2-and-0, while both the Longhorns and Wildcats are 3-and-1. Missouri is next, along with Baylor and Oklahoma, at 2-and-1. The other six teams in the league are below .500.
The conference as a whole is second to the Big East in Ratings Percentage Index, one tool used to help with NCAA tournament selections. The Tigers, individually, are 45th in the RPI. Kansas, Texas and K-State are all in the top ten, while Baylor (27), Oklahoma State (38) and Texas A&M (39) are also rated ahead of Mizzou.
While the Tigers and Huskers rest for Saturday's game, A&M hosts Oklahoma and Baylor travels to Kansas in key mid-week matchups. On Saturday, Kansas is at Iowa State, Oklahoma State at Kansas State and Oklahoma at Texas Tech.
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