Some Missouri fans wondered aloud if Georgia coach Mark Fox had his television turned on Saturday night. If he did, maybe it was on the NFL playoffs.
"Wow. They've got a lot of things that concern you," Fox said when asked about Missouri on the SEC coaches' teleconference Monday morning. "I think this is a team that is so offensive and such a great rebounding team, they're a very, very complete team. They're arguable a team that can compete for a national championship. The reason they can do that, the reason Florida can do that, is they have an experience factor on their team, there are no weaknesses on their team."
The comments were glowing regardless of circumstances. Considering the Tigers had just come off a 64-49 loss at Ole Miss in which they never led for a second and Phil Pressey said they played their worst two halves of basketball all season, they were even more positive than might have been expected.
Of course, coaches are coaches and they talk up an opponent at every opportunity. But in addition, Fox realized what Frank Haith knows about his own squad: That Missouri team wasn't the one that had played most of the previous 14 games and spent much of the season ranked in the nation's top ten.
"We didn't look like ourselves," Haith said. "Where we really struggled was on the offensive end. When you look at our team other than the first couple games where Laurence (Bowers) struggled scoring early in games, he became our guy in the first half. I think that showed what we missed the most was our go to guy to start ballgames and get ourselves going running offense through him."
Without Bowers on the floor, Missouri scored a season-low and shot just 36.8%, including a 2-for-18 three-point effort that would have been worse had it not been for a banked triple from Jabari Brown. But what's done is done and Missouri now has no choice but to look forward.
"We have to. That's the only thing we can do," Pressey said. "New rotations, first we have Laurence, then we have Tony (Criswell). Just got to figure that out. It's basketball, you've got to figure out how to play without people."
"Always when you lose and you play like we did, it kind of catches you off guard," Criswell said. "We just got to go back to the drawing board and refocus and we'll be okay."
Criswell had missed the previous three Missouri games and had practiced only once since breaking a finger on his left hand against Illinois on December 22nd. Despite fouling out in just 14 minutes on the floor, Haith considered his contribution one of the few bright spots on an otherwise dreadful night in Oxford.
"Here's a guy that had one practice since the Illinois game, it was the practice before the game," Haith said. "And he has a thing on his hand that he's not used to and I thought he was pretty doggone tough in the game. I thought he competed. I thought he went out there and under those circumstances, I was real encouraged."
Criswell scored six points, grabbed two rebounds and did not turn the ball over. He was the only Tiger to make more than half his shots, connecting on three of the four he took.
"I felt like it was pretty average," Criswell said. "I felt like I could have played better, as a unit we could have played better."
Coming off such an ugly loss, the Tigers could ask for little medicine better than Fox's Georgia team. The Bulldogs are 6-and-9, including 0-and-2 in SEC play. Their best win this season probably came against Southern Cal, which just fired its coach. But don't tell Haith Georgia isn't dangerous.
"A team I think you can't look at their record and get caught up in that," Haith said, doing his part to return the coachspeak-laden praise. "It's a league game against a team that is athletic, they have one of the better scorers in this league and we're coming off a tough loss."
That scorer is Kentavius Caldwell-Pope, who leads UGA with 16.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. But no other Bulldog is averaging even half what Caldwell-Pope is this season.
"That's one of the struggles of our team is finding a consistent second gun," Fox said. "We didn't think it would be as challenging as it's been. We just really have not been able to establish our front line play. We just continually are changing the lineup up front because we just continually are searching for somebody that can perform at both ends. That's maybe a challenge that we didn't see completely coming."
Even with the Tigers coming off their worst performance of the season, Georgia will have to offer Caldwell-Pope plenty of support to come out of Columbia with a win.
"Having grown up in Kansas, I was able to really follow Missouri basketball my entire childhood," Fox said. "Now that they're in the SEC we get a chance to go to Columbia which is traditionally and for decades has been a very difficult place to play."
The Tigers and Bulldogs tip off at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night. PowerMizzou.com will provide Instant Analysis and complete post-game coverage throughout the night.
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