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February 17, 2012
Embracing the Cliche
It is the rallying cry of every team. It is the nightmare of every sportswriter. One game at a time.
We're not looking ahead. We're focused on our next opponent. This game is our biggest game because this game is our next game.
It is a cliché the Missouri Tigers have down pat.
"If you interview our guys," Frank Haith says, "They all say the same thing."
That they do.
Reporters keep asking varying versions of the same question and the Tigers keep giving the same answer.
Reporter: "With what's happened in the Big 12, it's looking like it's a two team race. Your thoughts?"
Kim English: "Texas A&M."
Michael Dixon Jr.: "What he said. We're worried about what we're gonna do. We can't control anything that anybody else does. We got Texas A&M on Saturday so that's who we're gonna get ready for."
Asked about his team's ability to put that oft-used mantra into practice, Haith said, "Very impressed. We've got an older group so that helps. They're all talking about it and I think we've got a great coaching staff that's helpful in interjecting that throughout our team about, 'Hey, just the next game. That's what's important.'"
Do the players have to be told to answer that way, or have they truly bought into believing it?
"I think they just repeat what I say," Haith says with a grin.
Either way, it's working for Mizzou. The Tigers have lost only twice this season. The first loss came at Kansas State, a perfect confluence of events. Missouri hasn't played well in Manhattan for years and they didn't this time, shooting just 32.7% and turning the ball over 14 times. Ricardo Ratliffe played only 14 minutes and the Tigers were abused on the glass, 42-28. Meanwhile, offensively limited Kansas State shot 49.1% and scored 75 points, its second-best total in Big 12 play.
Missouri's next loss came in Stillwater, Oklahoma, the only time the Tigers could perhaps be accused of letting down their guard. The game was played just 72 hours after an emotional road win at then third-ranked Baylor. Mizzou had an eight-point lead with six-and-a-half minutes to play, but fell apart down the stretch.
On Saturday, the Tigers will play another game which, on the surface, could have the makings of a trap. Texas A&M is just 13-and-12 this season, including 4-and-9 in Big 12 play. The Aggies are ninth in the league in offense and lost 70-51 to the Tigers last month in Columbia. And, oh, by the way, Missouri hasn't won in College Station in exactly 11 years (Mizzou beat the Aggies 97-90 on February 17th, 2001 as A&M finished 3-13 in the Big 12).
"We wanted to beat them down there the last two times," English said. "We want to win every game we're going in, but we're not looking at all those things, all the things newspapers write about. We're just really looking at executing and preparing every week. That's irrelevant."
Haith, as coaches do, is saying everything to convince his players and the media that the Aggies are a team more than capable of handing the Tigers their third loss.
"I think Texas A&M is playing a lot better. I think they have (Krhis) Middleton back, I anticipate Dash Harris being back our game too, so they'll be at full force," the Missouri coach said. "I know their coach very well and I know that they're going to play great defense and we're going to have to really execute very well to have success offensively. They're big, they're physical, they're athletic. We played well against them here, but I know they're going to attack us in the paint so we're going to have to be ready to defend the paint against those guys."
Looming ahead for the Tigers is a chance for payback against Kansas State on Tuesday night and a trip to Kansas on Saturday, which many have already tabbed the Big 12 Championship game.
On the horizon is the possibility not only of a league title, but a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and the possibility of playing two games in St. Louis with a Final Four invitation on the line.
Missouri's response to all of that?
"We want to win," English said. "Because it's our next game."
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