Missouri cracks under UI pressure

Missouri cracks under UI pressure

  ST. LOUIS  Missouri''s raged Tigers handled the Illinois pressure with all the aplomb of an airport baggage handler.

   A tipsy airport baggage handler.

   Wearing boxing gloves.

   All of this made Missouri coach Norm Stewart cringe, made the Illini confident and turned this Braggin'' Rights event into a nonissue. Illinois'' 85-69 victory at Kiel Center wasn''t as much decided around the basket as it was around the blunders.

   "Our judgments are not very good," Stewart said. "We''re struggling a little. Guard play is obviously a problem. Some of that can be attributed to young guys. But they weren''t all young guys. If some guys get their master''s they''ll be on social security."

   Missouri''s blunders numbered 27  the number of times the Tigers wasted a possession via turnover.

   A bit of perspective: Arkansas'' Razorbacks and their so-called "40 minutes of hell" caused 25 Missouri turnovers.

   Maybe the Illini should consider "40 minutes of hell with a pregame warm-up in purgatory."

   "I think that was the main factor of us winning the game," Illini forward Bryant Notree said. "Our ball pressure forced a lot of turnovers and we got a lot of points off those turnovers."

   No less than eight Missouri giveaways were the direct result of Illinois'' full-court pressure. This is the same press that Illinois tried a bit in recent seasons with mild success.

   Come to think of it, maybe it''s not the same press. So say the Illini, who profess this version is spiced with much more spit and vinegar.

   "One of the things that happened early in the season is that when we did press, we saw some success out of it," Illinois'' Brian Johnson said. "When you do that, you get people believing. You want to press. When Coach says, ''Should we drop back into our half-court man-to-man?'', we''ll say, ''No, no, no, let''s press.'' Usually we''re saying let''s keep the pressure on, we feel good about it, let''s do it.

   "When you''ve got players buying into the system like that, it''s hard not to be effective."

   Give the Illini due credit. But Stewart preferred to cast a stern look at his own troops, who are in serious need of a point guard.

   Starter Chip Walther coughed it up five times in 14 minutes in the first half and didn''t see the court in the second half. Corey Tate  a forward  spent much of the second half running the offense.

   "They''ve got two guards playing the point guard and we knew that," Johnson said. "That''s not unlike something we''ve had at times in the past. We got frustrated sometimes and they got frustrated too."

   All 11 Tigers who played made at least one turnover. Ouch.

   "Our deep guys (on the press) were cutting at the wrong time, and a few times they were there but we missed them," Missouri''s Derek Grimm said.

   "Part of our guard problem is the forwards weren''t working to catch the ball," Stewart said. "And sometimes we just throw it with no rhyme or reason."

   And then there were the unforced mistakes. Passes to no one in particular. A muffed pass that squanders a 4-on-1 fast break. Allowing the shot clock to expire without even thinking of a shot.

   The Illini didn''t cause them all, but they weren''t about to apologize.

   "They got frustrated a few times and had some miscommunications. That happens to everybody," Johnson said. "But us putting them in a position to have to make those reads benefits us. I don''t want to say we took the ball from them at that point, but our pressure did induce them to turn the ball over."

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