Heading into Saturday's game versus Nebraska, reserve guard Miguel Paul had seen just 14 minutes of Big 12 action. Paul responded Saturday by scoring one point over that total, pouring in 15 points in 16 minutes off the bench.
But like a good comic, timing was everything for Paul on Saturday. Paul provided a spark to re-energize the Tigers against a Nebraska team that plays a style more akin to a plodding tortoise instead of the cheetah-like tempo of MU.
Paul's efficient 5-of-6 shooting, including two for three behind the arc, was much needed in a game that saw MU shoot below 40 percent for the third straight game.
But all those misses provided the Tiger bigs a chance for redemption. A chance to answer the critics. A chance to make a statement in the rugged Big 12 that these cats aren't just about flashin' and dashin'. MU outrebounded Nebraska 33-28, including a team-high 11 from junior Justin Safford, his first double-digit output of the year.
Nebraska slowed the pace Saturday and forced the Tigers into a half-court game, something they would prefer to do otherwise. The three first-half fouls committed by Nebraska illustrate how out of sync MU was early in the game. Instead of attacking, MU sat back and let Nebraska dictate the tempo.
Nebraska coach Doc Sadler also did a great job of game planning. It's no secret MU lives (and dies) by the three. Aside from a breakdown with about 10 minutes to play, the Nebraska defenders did a great job of denying MU threes all game. Nebraska's perimeter defense was so tight that Nebraska guards could probably tell what kind of deodorant Kimmie English and Marcus Denmon use.
This defense also forced English & Co. to force threes when they were available, as is evident by MU's 28 percent shooting from behind the arc.
Tonight in Lawrence, MU must avoid these, and pretty much any, mistakes. The Jayhawks feature four players who average double digits in scoring, led by Sherron Collins' 16 points per game. If the Tigers do not show the toughness displayed on the boards Saturday, MU might as well circle their March 6 rematch with KU as their only shot to knock off their bitter rivals.
Cole Aldrich, Thomas Robinson, and Markieff and Marcus Morris measure out to 6'11", 6'9", 6'9", and 6'8" respectively. The 'Hawks use this frontcourt to soar above the competition, snaring 41.4 boards a game, good for third in the conference.
It will take gutsy, clutch performances, like those of Paul on Saturday, for the Tigers to snap the nation's longest home winning streak. But if MU isn't hitting on all cylinders tonight, they must re-focus for Saturday's matchup with the up-and-coming Cowboys of Oklahoma State.
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