COLUMBIA, Mo. • As Mizzou coach Frank Haith considered a question Monday about how to inject more grit into his Tigers after lopsided losses in their last two road games, he smiled and invoked the words of a motivational speaker who recently addressed them.
“When you go the wrong direction, the message of the GPS is ‘recalculate,’” Haith said, recalling part of speaker Bobby Petrocelli’s talk. “That means you’ve got to be able to change directions. And we don’t recalculate very well. Things set with us. We don’t stay in the present.”
The notion of that talk helping MU stay in the moment and rally now might have more pop if Petrocelli hadn’t visited with the team Saturday, hours before the Tigers suffered an 83-52 defeat at Florida for their worst loss in nearly five years.
Nevertheless, the concept that the future is now isn’t lost on the 22nd-ranked Tigers (13-4 overall, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) as they enter their 6 p.m. meeting today against South Carolina (11-6, 1-3) at Mizzou Arena.
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“The main message (was) ‘What do you do when life throws you curveballs?’” center Alex Oriakhi said. “I know I’m not going to sit here and feel sorry for myself.”
Good thing, because the curveballs keep coming ... along with a knuckleball Monday: CBSSports.com’s report that a source close to the Miami investigation says Haith is expected to be charged with “unethical conduct and failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance” as part of the NCAA’s notice of allegations against the school where Haith worked before coming to Missouri in 2011.
Meanwhile, Haith not surprisingly announced that star forward Laurence Bowers would miss his fourth straight game with a knee injury, somewhat surprisingly said that guard Keion Bell would probably be out with an ankle injury suffered against Florida and altogether surprisingly announced guard Earnest Ross would be a game-time decision because of a back injury against Georgia that apparently led to his playing only 9 minutes against the Gators.
“We’re a little banged up, a little bit of adversity; it’s all part of it as a coach,” Haith said at his weekly news conference.
So Haith almost certainly will have to employ his sixth starting lineup in 18 games – a contrast to the injury-free season a year ago in which he was able to use the same lineup for all 35 games.
And he’ll be using it against a coach, Frank Martin, whose Kansas State team last season was kryptonite against a Tigers team that otherwise was 30-3.
The Wildcats pulverized MU 75-59 in Manhattan and stiff-armed Mizzou away 78-68 in Columbia.
Martin doesn’t have the same personnel at South Carolina, and the Gamecocks are last in the 14-team SEC in field-goal-percentage defense (.439). But they’re third in the league in rebounding differential (MU is No. 1), reflecting an imprint that leaves Haith again anticipating “smash-mouth basketball.”
“They’re going to test your manhood,” he said. “They’re going to come after us. ... We’ve got to match that intensity.”
With a healthy Bowers, Bell and Ross, this MU team would figure to be better physically equipped for the challenge. Even so, Haith also acknowledged Monday that he’s still trying to reach a team that features only one returnee from last season, guard Phil Pressey.
“We have to get to that moment,” he said.
It hasn’t helped that Mizzou has had its full complement together for just two games this season, he noted. But that doesn’t fully account for why on the court there still seems to be an absence of ability to anticipate and trust among his players or why the team routinely seems to unravel when it gets behind or is faced with duress or distraction.
“We’ve got to have some type of growth in that area,” Haith said, later noting one benchmark for it: “You can only hear the voice of your coaches and your teammates. We’ve got to get to that level.”
That will be much easier for MU at home, where it plays three of its next four games..
“I’m glad that we’re having these hiccups early, because this is when you want to have them,” Pressey said. “So you can fix them now so in the long run you’ll be all right.”
The Florida game, Pressey said, had opened eyes and even put “a chip on our shoulder. Some of the guys are still mad about that game. ... I can’t explain how much we want to play them again.”
Which is fine.
But the GPS says Mizzou needs to recalculate to the here and now of South Carolina.
“I can’t wait for tomorrow,” Pressey said Monday.
When Haith hopes they’ll stay in the present.